The film opens on the utopic images of the too-good-to-be-true neighbourhood of Suburbicon, presented in lifestyle magazines as the picture of domestic bliss and social harmony. The quaint houses, the tree lined streets, the picket fences; it’s all very… well, white. The year is 1957 and the picture-perfect town is being shaken by a new arrival. A black family have moved in and, to the neighbourhood’s horror, they seem to be making no apology for attempting to live the same quiet, serene life enjoyed by all the other residents.
Shortly after the young African American family move in next door, the Lodge family experience a traumatic home invasion. Two unknown white men tie the family to chairs and Gardner (Matt Damon), his wife Rose (Julianne Moore), their son Nicky (Noah Jupe) and Rose’s twin sister Margaret (also played by Julianne Moore for added eerie impact) are all administered a dose of chloroform. When they finally regain consciousness, they are faced with a whole new reality. Tragedy has struck the heart of their small family and suddenly the town they thought they knew is a menacing place. While the new family next door is subjected to ever-increasing threats and abuse, Gardner sets out to exact revenge on his captors and restore the harmony in his own home.
Director George Clooney has teamed up with frequent writing collaborator Grant Heslov and the Coen brothers to create this macabre American-dream-gone-wrong comedy drama. It’s Double Indemnity meets Far From Heaven meets Quentin Tarantino with more than a little of the farcical humour that made Hail, Caesar!, the Coen Brothers’ most recent work, one of those ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m watching but I think I’m enjoying it’ kind of films.
Suburbicon has plenty of twists up its sleeve. Just when you reckon you’ve been super clever and sussed out the kicker, the film seems to say ‘yeah, you’re right, but what about THIS’. It may take a little while to warm up into the darkly funny caper movie that it is, but when it does it’s such a rewarding, horrifying, hilarious fever dream of an experience. There is some excellently judged humour surrounding knowing how to approach someone dealing with grief and a running visual gag of Matt Damon’s Gardner attempting to race somewhere rather important on his kid’s bike that has so much comic mileage.
Matt Damon delivers a great performance as the shaken patriarch-come-revenge driven animal while Julianne Moore is excellent as both Rose and Margaret in the somewhat disconcerting role of playing her own doppelganger. If you didn’t see something bad coming already, this uncanny double screams ‘creepy things afoot’. Noah Jupe puts in an astonishing performance as a young boy who has been through hell and back and just about lived to tell the tale while Oscar Isaac shines in the role of Bud Cooper, who for the sake of spoilers will just be referred to in Bud’s own words: a “professional sceptic”. Just as the film begins to dip in energy, Isaac injects his first scene with all the humour and energy required to set the film’s second act into motion.
While Suburbicon could be described as a film about race or the male ego, it is much more broadly a film about the nature of fear. When Gardner’s home is invaded he is emasculated in front of his family and he must fight to restore security and win back his rights to the very 1950s role of provider and master of his own kingdom. Likewise, when the residents of Suburbicon believe their cosy middle-class neighbourhood to have been invaded by the arrival of the African American family, an angry mob of husbands and fathers attempt to drive the family out by any means necessary. Everyone is protecting their own. Their own pride, their own families, their normality. As the saying goes, you never know what’s going on behind closed doors, but for the families of Suburbicon they think the answer is written in the colour of your skin. The film’s message, made loud and clear with the help of some great comic sequences, is that you don’t – and can’t – really know anyone.
Suburbicon isn’t always the most finely tuned of comedies and some of the more morbid scenes cry out for the eerie, unnerving touch of a director like David Lynch, but the twists are brilliant, the score alternately suspenseful and moving and the message poignant. Better than you might think, this one…
Suburbicon is in UK cinemas from November 24th.