A regular actor for the Coen Brothers in films like Burn After Reading and Hail Caesar!, George Clooney joins them again for a very different collaboration. Adapted from an early Coen script, Suburbicon is Clooney’s sixth film as director, and one of his best. A darkly comic satire set in an idyllic, all-white 1950s American suburb, it features a sublime cast – led by Clooney’s Ocean’s trilogy co-star Matt Damon – in a story that feels utterly relevant to the here and now.
Damon plays white-collar executive Gardner Lodge, who lives in the tranquil Suburbicon with his wife, a blonde called Rose (Julianne Moore), who is wheelchair-bound after a car accident. Her identical twin sister, the brunette Margaret (also Moore), helps out where possible with Rose and Gardner’s son, Nicky (newcomer Noah Jupe). But there is trouble in paradise, beginning when two thugs arrive one night at the Lodges’ house intent on looting the place. These are no ordinary criminals, however, and it swiftly becomes clear there’s more going on than a simple home invasion.
Despite the Coens’ fingerprints all over this, Clooney and his regular co-writer, Grant Heslov, have put their own spin on proceedings, inspired by a real-life racial incident in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1957. Riffing on notions of white privilege, the satire is sharp-edged, as Gardner’s increasingly bloody attempts to keep his plan on track coincide with the rest of the town intimidating the African-American family who move in next door to the Lodges’ house. The result is as unsettling as it is hilarious. Little wonder, then, that it was nominated for the top prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
For Coen fans, Suburbicon is a treat. The script was originally written shortly after their 1984 debut, Blood Simple, and contains the threads of many of their early films – notably Fargo, with its coal-black humour and a protagonist who lets things spiral out of control. Clooney certainly acknowledges the film’s origins, with an excellent cast – Damon (True Grit), Moore (The Big Lebowski) and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) – who have all worked with the Coens before.
Superbly shot by the Oscar-winning Robert Elswit, Clooney’s cinematographer on 2005’s Good Night, And Good Luck, Suburbicon is lovingly crafted, with resplendent ’50s settings. The same goes for the performances: Damon has never been this dark, and he thrives, while Moore – recalling her earlier work in Robert Altman’s Cookie’s Fortune – handles her dual roles with consummate ease.