George Clooney’s black comedy Suburbicon has received some bafflingly negative reviews, appearing almost to punish Clooney for not being the Coen brothers, since its premiere at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
It was the Coens who conceived this story years ago, and their script has now been rewritten by Clooney and his regular collaborator Grant Heslov. They have done a solid job. The film is immensely stylish to look at and entertaining throughout.
Blood on his shirt: Matt Damon in Suburbicon. It also boasts Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac, quite a cast
It was the Coens who conceived this story years ago, and their script has now been rewritten by Clooney and his regular collaborator Grant Heslov
It also boasts Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Oscar Isaac, quite a cast, although stealing their collective thunder is the English child actor Noah Jupe, who played Hugh Laurie’s son in the BBC drama The Night Manager. He is tremendously good here and shining in such illustrious company offers further evidence that he is a talent to watch.
His character, Nicky Lodge, provides a story of murder, greed and bigotry with its moral core. Most of the grown-ups around little Nicky are morally irredeemable, for one reason or another, and that includes his father, Gardner, played by Damon in one of those everyman performances of his.
Gardner has a haircut as neat as his tie-knot, is superficially decent and God-fearing, but has no innate decency at all. Aptly, this everyman lives in everytown, which is just the same: inoffensive on the outside, rotten within.
The Lodges’ home is in Suburbicon, a model community built in 1947 and clearly based on Levittown, the prototype of the neat, purpose-built post-war American suburb. It is now the turn of the Sixties and the town has everything anyone could wish for, except bi-racial harmony.
When a quiet, genteel black family moves in, the middle-class white folk of Suburbicon express their outrage in a petition, which declares that they are in favour of integration ‘but only when the Negro shows he’s ready for it’.
English child actor Noah Jupe, who played Hugh Laurie’s son in the BBC drama The Night Manager, is tremendously good here and shining in such illustrious company offers further evidence that he is a talent to watch
The Lodges’ home is in Suburbicon, a model community built in 1947 and clearly based on Levittown, the prototype of the neat, purpose-built post-war American suburb
Soon, a vicious campaign is under way to drive out the newcomers with drums and even choirs outside their house at all hours of day and night. This is based on an actual 1957 case of sustained harassment in Levittown, and just to remove any ambiguity, Clooney gives his family the same name, Myers, as the real-life victims.
Yet for the rest of the film, this story unfolds in parallel, hardly ever converging, with something else happening across the street, where the Lodges live.
Gardner is married to Rose (Julianne Moore), who has been left wheelchair-bound after a car accident. Her sister Maggie (also played by Moore) is paying them a visit, helping to look after Nicky.
One night, two brutish men enter their home. The Lodges are tied up and chloroformed, with fatal consequences for one of them. At first, we are led to believe that this might have something to do with the fact that young Nicky, earlier that day, was sent to play baseball with the new black kid opposite.
Do the two men represent some terrible gang of white-supremacist vigilantes. But no, to reiterate, the twin narratives of this film hardly collide. This can be distracting, almost as if Clooney wasn’t sure whether either storyline was quite strong enough on its own.
Still, there are enough pleasures for it not to matter, not least Oscar Isaac’s arrival, late in the film, as a canny insurance claims investigator. By now it has become clear exactly what is going on, though Clooney has kept us waiting.
To reveal anything more would count as a spoiler, but suffice to say that Coen fans will be reminded strongly of the brothers’ wonderful 1996 film Fargo. Suburbicon is not in that league, but it’s still worth a trip to your local multiplex.