In “Suburbicon” director George Clooney pays tribute to the great melodramatic thrillers of the past with a timely story about two families, one in a quagmire of their own making, another harassed by outside forces. It’s a morality—or should that be a-morality—play that is as grim as it
Set in Suburbicon, a picture perfect suburb, new, sparkling with all the amenities, we first meet Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his family, wife Rose (Julianne Moore), son Nicky (Noah Jupe) and sister-in-law Margaret (also Julianne Moore). It’s a “Leave it to Beaver” life until a home invasion shatters the American Dream idyll. “Nothing like that ever happened here,” a neighbour says. “This was a safe place.”
Meanwhile an African-American family moves in next door and immediately becomes the target of racial intolerance from the townsfolk. Based on the real-life harassment of the Myers family, husband William (Leith M. Burke), wife Daisy (Karimah Westbrook) and son Andy (Tony Espinosa) in Levittown, Pennsylvania in 1957, the citizens of Suburbicon create a twenty-four-hour-a-day disturbance outside their home, making normal life almost impossible inside.
As the police investigate the invasion and the murder of Rose, uncomfortable questions arise. When an insurance inspector (Oscar Isaac) starts poking around it little Nicky begins to suspect his father might not be the man he thought he was.
On one fateful night tensions come to boil at both the Lodge and Myers households.
There will be no spoilers here, just know that “Suburbicon” plays like the leering devil child of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch or the evil godchild of the Coen Brothers, who wrote the original script before Clooney and long time collaborator Grant Heslov did a rewrite. It’s a beautifully nasty film, nicely made but marching to the beat of a very dark heart.
Against a seemingly wholesome backdrop Clooney paints a picture of greed, murder, racism and infidelity. There are laughs—like the ridiculous sight of Damon riding a kid’s bicycle away from a crime scene—but make no mistake this is not “Ocean’s Eleven.” He builds the story block-by-block, carefully creating character facades only to shatter them. Hardly anyone is who they seem. Only Nicky is pure-of-heart and if this was real life Nicky would need some serious therapy. It’s gripping and grim stuff about the American Dream gone wrong.
Murder and infidelity are, I guess, the timeless aspects of the story. The racism, particularly in light of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, brings a timely and urgent facet. The portrayal of the racism levelled at the Myers family is ugly and, sadly, all too believable. The “decent” folks of Suburbicon are all too quick to grab a Confederate flag when an African-American family moves in next door. It’s a strong anti-segregation message that contrasts the craven behaviour of the Lodge family.
Damon doles out the creepy vibe sparingly, bring the character to a slow simmer, only to have it boil when things go sideways. Moore is a dim-witted femme fatale with a mean streak. Isaac inserts some smarmy energy mid-movie, but it is Jupe as little Nicky who grounds things. We see Suburbicon’s carefully constructed world fall apart through his eyes, taking the ride with him. He’s a Hitchcockian figure in short pants, the boy who knew too much, and he’s an effective mirror of the dangers of conformity.
“Suburbicon” is a horror film, but the monster is us.