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Suburbicon - Review

Suburbicon

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

GEORGE Clooney takes aim at Trump’s America for his latest directorial offering, Suburbicon, a Coens-esque urban thriller that is as darkly comic as it is slyly intelligent.

Set in a picture perfect, God-fearing American town circa 1959, just as the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum, this nevertheless paints a damning portrait of the type of US prejudices that still lurk behind the veil of the American Dream.

As the story opens, we’re quite literally being sold that dream, in the form of the Suburbicon utopia occupied by the likes of Matt Damon’s Gardner Lodge – all white picket fences and well manicured lawns. Hell, even the postman knows everyone by their name.

But this idyllic community existence is quickly shattered by the arrival of their latest neighbours: a family of colour whose presence immediately provokes a racist backlash that looks destined to end in violence.

Ironically, however, this simmering tension is not the main focus of the story, but rather its backdrop. Taking centre-stage is Lodge and his family, comprised of his disabled wife (Julianne Moore), young son Nicky (Noah Jupe) and Aunt Maggie (also played by Moore).

When their home is invaded one night in an apparently random attack, the family is left to pick up the pieces of a violent tragedy. Yet all is not what it at first seems, as Nicky quickly finds out…

The majority of Suburbicon is taken up by the fallout from the home invasion, and unfolds in a blood-soaked style befitting the Coen brothers early work (such as Blood Simple and Fargo). But that shouldn’t be a surprise given that Clooney and long-time writing partner Grant Heslov have dusted off an old Coen script and added their own political commentary.

As a result, you can expect plenty of eccentric characters, twists, turns and double crosses, all played out in an increasingly blackly comic vein.

Having been directed himself by the Coens on several occasions, Clooney proves a dab hand at combining their often absurdist humour with chastening moments of tension and violence, while also ensuring that even his supporting players are afforded the opportunity to create memorable characters.

Hence, as good as Damon is in the lead role (which exists to be discovered rather than revealed too soon), there’s equal room for the ensemble to shine, with the likes of Jupe on outstanding form as an innocent child forced to become a man too soon, Gary Basaraba equally superb as his caring but distant Uncle Mitch and Oscar Isaac on scene-stealing form as a glib insurance scam investigator who delights in pursuing red flag clients.

For the most part, therefore, Suburbicon is a dark delight – a film that keeps you guessing, as well as appalled and amused. And the less you know going in, the better.

Where it falters slightly is in those aforementioned attempts to add a little social commentary. For given the complexity of the main story, the racial undertow sometimes feels like an after-thought: a nice idea that’s not really afforded the chance it needs to breathe (and thereby make a greater impact on the main story).

For sure, the plight of the black family being subjected to the callous abuse of the neighbourhood is shocking, and certainly holds uncomfortable parallels with current headlines. But Clooney’s handling of their story is clumsy in that it sometimes feels forgotten and unrelated. It’s a weakness that’s been seized upon, somewhat unfairly, by a lot of States-side critics.

For my money, however, Clooney’s film deserves extra praise for the scope of its ambition, even if it can’t juggle everything successfully.

Overall, therefore, Suburbicon is a wickedly amusing urban thriller, driven by great performances, that grips, absorbs and has plenty to say. Faults aside, it’s another strong entry onto Clooney’s directing CV.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 45mins
UK Release Date: November 24, 2018

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