SUB­UR­BAN HEART OF DARK­NESS

Pretoria News Weekend - - FILM - GE­OF­FREY MACNAB

THERE is a telling scene in Ge­orge Clooney’s Suburbicon. An up­stand­ing fam­ily man is spot­ted late at night, ped­alling a bi­cy­cle down the tree-lined streets of his town. Asked what he is do­ing, he blithely replies he is “out for a ride”.

What he doesn’t ex­plain is why his shirt is caked in blood and why he has been try­ing to hide the corpse of a mur­dered man.

Suburbicon is Clooney’s finest film as a di­rec­tor since Good Night And Good Luck. Co-scripted by the Coen broth­ers, it is wildly en­ter­tain­ing in its own macabre, vi­o­lent fash­ion, and per­cep­tive about racism and hypocrisy in mid­dle-class white Amer­ica.

Al­though set in the 1950s, it feels timely given re­cent events in­volv­ing white na­tion­al­ists. In one of the film’s less sub­tle mo­ments, we see ri­ot­ers drap­ing the Con­fed­er­ate flag on a win­dowsill of the home of the black fam­ily they want to kick out of their cosy sub­ur­ban neigh­bour­hood.

The film un­folds in Suburbicon, a model town founded in 1947. It has ev­ery amenity imag­in­able, in­clud­ing a firstrate hos­pi­tal, even a choir. The towns­folk are liv­ing their ver­sion of the post-war Amer­i­can dream, and bask­ing in a new era of af­flu­ence. They are cheer­ful and hyper-friendly – at least un­til the black fam­ily moves in. “We don’t want them here,” the white folk quickly make very clear.

Matt Damon plays yet an­other all-Amer­i­can type. His char­ac­ter, Gard­ner Lodge, is a seem­ingly af­flu­ent hus­band and fa­ther with a 10-year-old son, Nicky (Noah Jupe.) His wife Nancy is in a wheel­chair, and her looka­like sis­ter Mar­garet (Ju­lianne Moore) is also liv­ing with them.

The sto­ry­line is ev­ery bit as far-fetched as those of the melo­dra­matic op­eras that in­surance in­ves­ti­ga­tor (Os­car Isaac) so en­joys.

Clooney fills Suburbicon with Hitch­cock-like touches and ref­er­ences to film noir: a killing wit­nessed by a char­ac­ter hid­ing un­der a bed, who can only see the shoes of the vic­tim; sus­pense­ful scenes in which we never quite know who is go­ing to eat the poi­son first; omi­nous close-ups of knives and guns, and lots of pound­ing mu­sic at the most cli­mac­tic mo­ments.

The in­creas­ingly bizarre and psy­cho­pathic be­hav­iour of the adults is wit­nessed by the boy (played with won­der­ful wide-eyed in­no­cence by Jupe).

There are two par­al­lel nar­ra­tives here. One (full of sex, mur­der and con­spir­acy) in­volves the Lodge fam­ily. The other deals with the vic­tim­i­sa­tion of their black neigh­bours.

Clooney, his co-writer Grant Hes­low and the Coen broth­ers are pay­ing their own twisted com­pli­ment to the cit­i­zens of Suburbicon. They’re show­ing that these con­form­ist mid­dle­class Amer­i­cans have far more imag­i­na­tion and ca­pac­ity for mis­chief than any­one could have guessed. – The In­de­pen­dent

HITCH­COCK-ES­QUE: A scene from Suburbicon.

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