Director: George Clooney
Screenwriters: Joel and Ethan Coen, George Clooney and Grant Heslov
Runtime: 104 mins.
Australian Release Date: 26 October 2017
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 23 October 2017.
As Robert Elswit’s camera pans across iconic images of 1950s suburban perfection, somehow you know that something ain’t right. Malvina Reynolds’ famous 1962 song Little Boxes comes to mind, “There's a pink one and a green one, and a blue one and a yellow one, and they're all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same,” for this location is based on a real-life planned township, Levittown, Pennsylvania. ‘Suburbicon’ is a community that believes it is “a melting pot of diversity” because it draws people from all over the country, from as far afield as New York, Mississippi and Ohio. Diverse, that is, as long as you’re white. This is the setting for George Clooney’s Suburbicon, based on a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, with input from Clooney and his writer/producer colleague Grant Heslov. It’s a very dark comedy about racism and deception, based in part on true events, with a cast of the most thoroughly obnoxious characters you’re ever likely to see on screen.
In this middle-American suburban enclave where the white community lives in blissful oblivion, all hell breaks loose when the local postman delivers a letter to new residents, mistaking the African American woman (Karimah Westbrook) who answers the front door for the maid of the new white owners. When it dawns on him that she is, in fact, the ‘lady of the house,’ a meeting of the locals is quickly called. It erupts into indignant fury when one of the most extreme racists declares that, “we demand our rights to live where we want and with whom we want. And with God’s help, we will overcome.” It’s chilling rhetoric that turns the Civil Rights movement on its head. Next door to the unwelcome family lives Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and their young son Nicky (Noah Jupe). Rose, who’s confined to a wheelchair after a car accident, has a twin sister Margaret (also played by Julianne Moore) who eventually moves in with the family and helps to run the household. One night, a violent home invasion by a couple of thugs (Alex Hassell and Glenn Fleshler) sets off a chain of events that is soon inexorably out of control. Meanwhile, a hostile mob protests day-and-night outside their African-American neighbours’ house, always increasing in intensity and keeping up a constant barrage of noise and intimidation that is sickening and terrifying.
Suburbicon should have been a revelation but it isn’t. It looks fabulous due to the crisp lensing and spot-on production and costume design by James D. Bissell and Jenny Eagan. Alexandre Desplat’s soundtrack also has its moments. However, there is something curiously flat about this presentation. Despite a stellar cast and very credible leads in Damon and Moore, there is a sense that the script has been over-worked and yet the two storylines don’t gel. It’s hard to see where the nefarious goings-on in the Lodge house intersect with the overtly racist events playing out next door. It could be the fault of the editing but it’s a curious feeling to watch what should have been one of the most interesting films of the year crash before your eyes. It was ambitious to attempt to portray the foibles of the USA in such a strange manner, however, it is somewhat depressing to be reminded that the country is controlled predominately by a white society that continually practises hatred and bigotry. And there’s not much humour in that. Then again, maybe that’s the message?