There goes the neighbourhood…
Directed by George Clooney, Suburbicon is a satirical look at the suburban world of the late 50s, as racial integration was truly beginning to break down social barriers. The film tells the story of Garner Lodge (Matt Damon), a family man who lives with his wife, paralyzed as a result of a car accident, and adolescent son. When a home invasion turns tragic, the Lodge family is thrown into turmoil. However, as the truth begins to reveal itself, the family—and the neighbourhood—begins to unravel in unexpected ways.
Written by Joel and Ethan Coen, Suburbicon is filled with their signature brand of dark humor and violence yet Clooney very much puts his own stamp on the film as well. Through his use of framing and lighting, the film might be the best example of 50s-style film noir in years. What’s more, he wisely remains behind the camera for this film, resisting the obligatory cameo. In doing so, he allows the script and cast to bring the film to life on their own, which they do so successfully. Damon hasn’t appeared this menacing since The Talented Mr. Ripley while Moore plays the stereotypical housewife with a subversive edge. (Meanwhile, Oscar Issacs almost steals the film in his brief cameo as an insurance adjuster.)
Clooney portrays Suburbicon as a city of ‘diversity’, yet the set design and entirely Caucasian cast remind us of the myth of that claim. (This reality is emphasized from the very beginning through the film’s opening credit sequence, which hilariously mimics classic promotional films.) This town is one that believes it has ‘bettered itself’ and has ‘opportunities for prosperity for all’ yet refuses to recognize its unspoken flaws. Image is everything in Suburbicon but what happens when the seething cesspool of injustice and murder underneath begins to bubble to the surface?
In fact, one of the most interesting facets of Suburbicon is its interest in exploring racial tensions, without that narrative becoming the primary focus of the film. By focusing on the gradual destruction of the Lodge family, Clooney somehow manages to allow the racial issues to gain prominence. In other words, through its emphasis on the murderous intrigue, it is a reminder of how often the real social injustices of our culture get either swept aside or misplace blame. Although it takes place in the late 50s, there is a timeliness and urgency to Suburbicon that give it a much-needed satirical bite. It’s hard to watch Suburbicon and remain comfortable, which is to its credit. The film knows what it wants to say and it does so efficiently and effectively.
But, if you decide to move there, just don’t drink the tea.
This year, ScreenFish was invited to the TIFF17 press conference for SUBURBICON! Narrated by George Strombolopolous, this revealing conversation includes director George Clooney, writer Grant Heslov, and stars Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Karimah Westbrook. You can stream the audio from the event here: