Is it a black comedy, a social satire, a thriller, a film noir…? It is hard to say to which genre Suburbicon belongs. George Clooney’s latest feature film is set in post-war America in 1959, but points out its contemporary parallels as a film about social issues such as segregation and the secrets behind the classic US picket fence.
There are two parallel narratives here. One involving the Lodge family and the other about the Meyers, who are the Lodges’ victimised black neighbours. The people of Suburbicon live their seemingly friendly and tolerant American dream, until the black family moves in. While they try to fit in, the real evil happens in the house next door. Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) has his family torn apart after two men (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) break into their house and chloroform the entire family, overdosing Lodge’s wife Nancy (Julianne Moore), who is in a wheelchair. Nancy will soon enough be replaced by her sister Margaret (also Julianne Moore). Their sneaky little plan is about to be revealed soon when an insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) shows up and when Lodge’s son Nicky (Noah Jupe) is suspecting something.
Suburbicon premiered at Venice Film Festival in September, but received some negative criticism. I must disagree with these. Personally, I think this is Clooney’s best work as a director up to now, compared to the disappointing The Monuments Men (2014). The script is originally written by the Coen-brothers in the late 80’s and like always, I was totally intrigued by their witty dialogues, and the way the film goes from light and easy-digestible to dark and straight-out funny at times. Moreover, the narrative reveals parallels to modern America with issues and shortcomings such as racial prejudice and hypocrisy in the white middle-class.
The acting performances of Matt Damon and Julianne Moore are bit over the top, almost losing credibility, but this is on purpose to put extra emphasis on the satirical character of the film. Julianne Moore’s character Maggie seems an overly sweet Mrs. Butt-Kiss, she is almost annoying. And I never imagined Matt Damon playing a sociopath -so how even a psychopath?-, but I guess I have to change my mind about that. His character Gardner Lodge strikes us as a decent man, grieving for the loss of his wife, but you have to think otherwise. Nonetheless, it’s the 13 years-old Noah Jupe who stands out as his introvert but intellectual son Nicky.
As pointed out in the introduction, it is difficult to put a label on this film. Suburbicon is the result of a passionate threesome between a classic Hitchcock-movie, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Michael Haneke’s remake of Funny Games (2007). It contains the magical fairy-tale elements of the one and the satire and suspense of the other. So for example the numerous close-ups of guns and knives and the pounding music during a climax. Suburbicon wears the typical Coen-stamp with its authentic 50’s props and costumes. The colourful setting strongly contrasts with the sinister narrative.
The film misses the extra punch and comes over as too stiff and ‘friendly’ at times. But nonetheless, it will please the big audience without the expected Hollywood happy ending. It sets things straight after Clooney’s previous work as a director, but this is undoubtedly because he was backed by the Coen-brothers and a strong cast.
Suburbicon will be released in Belgium on December 6th 2017.