Venice 2017: George Clooney's Dark Comedy 'Suburbicon' is Perfection
by Alex Billington
September 2, 2017
Well, it looks like George Clooney has brought us the best Coen Brothers movie in years. Suburbicon is perhaps Clooney's best work as a director and it's one of the most humorous, deceptive, devilishly enjoyable dark comedies this entire year. I walked out of the cinema in Venice totally high, my heart racing, because I was so overwhelmed by how perfect it is, and by how much I loved every last twist and turn and reveal. It's so very dark, witty, engrossing, sharp, and lovable, in all the right ways. Suburbicon is co-written by Joel & Ethan Coen, with Clooney & Grant Heslov, so it's fair to call this a Coen Brothers film. But I don't want to get too wrapped up in that, because Clooney's direction here is seriously impressive and deserves the praise.
Suburbicon is a film about an idyllic town called "Suburbicon", a charming place where the neighborhoods are perfect, and everyone lives a great life in nice homes. It's a riff on the classic 1950s towns made up of white communities that sprung up, and while everyone is supposed to have a smile, there's obviously a seedy underbelly. The film doesn't even introduce the main characters - Matt Damon as Gardner, and Julianne Moore as his sister-in-law - until a good 10 minutes into it. This very astute choice instead allows us to be introduced to the community it takes place in, which Clooney uses for nuanced social/political commentary on top of being the ideal backdrop for an insurance scam dark comedy. All is revealed as the story plays out.
The best part about watching this is that the trailers have thrown us all for a loop, not revealing anything that actually happens (or rather tricking us into believing something). I don't want to say anything more. Even if you figure out what is going on the first 15 minutes, it's still entertaining to watch it all play out. That's actually what I really love about Suburbicon - it doesn't matter if you've got it figured out, it's just as enjoyable to get to the end, to follow as everything is revealed and crazy things happen to the abundance of kooky characters. I'm incredibly impressed by the focus of the film - the main character is actually a boy, Matt Damon's character's son Nicky, played by Noah Jupe. Focusing on him seems to take us back to the idea of innocence when you're a kid, with an unbiased mind, and how that goes away when you're an adult.
All of the performances in this film are perfect in their own way (perhaps the result of an experienced actor directing). Oscar Isaac gives a hilariously sharp turn as an insurance fraud investigator. I was worried he'd feel similar to many of his other roles, but that's not the case, and he's easily one of the best characters in the story. Noah Jupe is fantastic as the main boy, Nicky, completely convincing. Alex Hassell had me believing that he was straight out of the 50s as a slimy hit man who pops up every so often. Matt Damon is perfect in the lead role, even better than he is in Alexander Payne's Downsizing. And, of course, Julianne Moore is great as always. There's a few other minor roles that also stand out, which you'll discover within.
Aside from the super dark comedy aspect being ever so delectable, without ever becoming overbearing or overwhelming, there's a very intelligent amount of contextual references hidden throughout. Clooney subtly references our current political climate and societal problems by mirroring them to the problems of these times. The neighborhood is disturbed, and disrupted, by an African-American family moving in, and the funny thing is, they never do anything wrong or cause any problems. The rest of the white people are the ones who then, because of their own ridiculous reaction to this entrance, go crazy and start flipping out. And when we get to the end the father of the household just utters one line that sums up the entire situation. I'll save that for you to hear for yourself when you see this, it's one moment to appreciate when it comes along.
It makes me so happy to discover that Suburbicon is not only not at all what I was expecting (thanks to the way the trailers made it seem), but still so perfect and entertaining. It doesn't even feel like any of George Clooney's past films, there's a great amount of depth to it, but it also moves swiftly and has such a vast scope in terms of characters and storytelling within this "tiny" town. The whimsical score by Alexandre Desplat was another nice addition, and the set design is outstanding. There's so much to appreciate about this, and it's such a fun watch, which is the final piece of the puzzle. It's not just a smart film, but it's a thoroughly amusing film. As long as you can kick back and enjoy the ride, maybe you'll end up loving it as much as me.
Alex's Venice 2017 Rating: 10 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing