There is something really disheartening about a film that barely resembles the trailer that was sent to market to grab your attention. But, in the case of George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, Suburbicon, the disparity between the trailer and the film itself worked out in its favour. Despite being promised a quirky, Coen brothers-style chintzy romp, this is one very angry, gritty, get-your-hands-dirty type of film. And it’s great.
Suburbicon is a cookie-cutter development of nice, middle-class families living out the American Dream. It’s a wholesome, technicolour vision of a happy home; so potent you can almost smell the vanilla sundaes and freshly baked apple pie. The tracking shots over the quaint housing estate echoes the opening shots of Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands or Gary Ross’ Pleasantville. And, like most of the sprawling utopias in American cinema, there is something particularly rotten festering underneath the happy-go-lucky exterior.
For starters, an African American family have moved into the neighbourhood and nobody quite knows how to handle it. Wasn’t this development built to avoid having “inner city” neighbours? And, in a surprising turn of events, Gardner Lodge (the excellent Matt Damon) and his family find themselves falling victim to a domestic burglary. How could this happen in this slice of homespun bliss?
Whilst it could be argued that this film is much, much darker and angrier than a typical Coen brothers jaunt, you can see the influences in Clooney’s directorial decisions. At times, it definitely does feel like Fargo sliced with a Hitchcock noir. Alexandre Desplat’s score is absolutely brilliant, and pounds along with the almost unbearable tension on screen.
And that is what stands out about Suburbicon. For all the glossy smiles and perfectly coiffured hair, you are never really allowed to feel at ease watching this film. Every fluttered lash is laced with an icy cold stare; every friendly conversation filled with hidden barbs. This is particularly evident in the scene between Margaret (Julianne Moore) and the insurance investigator played by Oscar Isaac. Their dialogue is absolutely bursting with tension; smiling at each other whilst they seethe underneath. It’s barely containable.
Matt Damon does an excellent job of being quietly sinister and Noah Jupe is brilliant as his son, Nicky. Again, the scenes between this seemingly loving father and child are really difficult and awkward to watch.
Besides all the domestic-bliss-gone-wrong that is at the heart of the film, Clooney introduces a very heated sub-plot (as if things weren’t tense enough). The African American family – the Mayers – slowly find themselves being fenced in by their neighbours. They are charged extortionate amounts for necessities at the local grocery store. Night after night, a crowd gathers outside their home. It starts off with two or three “concerned” residents and, by the end of the film, it has grown to a vicious, feral mob.
Clooney neatly build this escalating anger throughout the film; it is really well done and woven into the main plotline without detracting from it. Much has been made about the Mayers being an afterthought as little is known about their characters or family life but it seems like that was the point Clooney was trying to drive home; we don’t know anything about them because the residents don’t choose to get know them.
Suburbicon has earned itself some pretty unfavourable reviews. Some have deemed the plot unoriginal; others have slated the directing. Sure, the story isn’t the most provocative but there really are only seven stories in the world; it’s all about how you tell them. I happen to think George Clooney and the assembled cast do a really great job of telling this one. It’s uncomfortable, it’s violent, it’s tense, it’s suppressed. You really will feel like a shower afterwards.
At the heart of it, the film is held together but a blazing soundtrack and truly excellent central performances. (Who knew Matt Damon could be so heartless?) It might not have set the box office alight, but Suburbicon certainly made me sit up and pay attention.