I do not usually enjoy movies directed by George Clooney. In the past, I have found them silly (Leatherheads) or on-the-nose and preachy (Good Night and Good Luck). As such, I was prepared to be underwhelmed when I saw a TIFF critics’ screening of Suburbicon, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was thoroughly impressed. Written by the famed Coen brothers, Suburbicon is a timely masterpiece of a movie and is simultaneously creepy, funny, political, and even sentimental.
Set in 1959 in a fictitious American town, the action begins as the first black family arrives in the aptly named suburb of Suburbicon. Racist white residents waste no time getting enraged at the idea of living alongside African Americans, believing black people to be morally and intellectually inferior. Seeing themselves as activists fighting for the “civil right” to live in a racially homogenous community, hoards of Suburbicon’s white citizens mobilize to chase away their neighbours of colour. They beat drums outside their house in the middle of the night, vandalize the family’s property, and charge them more for milk at the grocery store. Sadly, these scenes will remind you of the self-described Nazis who live in America today.
After establishing the bigotry of Suburbicon’s people, the story deftly shifts focus and takes a deeper look at one of its white families. Beautiful, Episcopalian, and purportedly prosperous, the Lodges are the prototypical suburban family. The Lodge patriarch, Gardner, is played by the normally heroic Matt Damon, a man who built a career on saving the world on-screen. Damon’s clean-cut, all-American good looks contrast with the sinister ineptitude lying below his character’s surface. When his wife dies under mysterious circumstances, it becomes clear that all the immorality, violence and crime the folks of Suburbicon fear people of colour will bring were actually there all along.
Suburbicon is the perfect film for 2017. With elegance and grace, it simultaneously tackles themes of racial integration, white supremacy, and violence against women. Like the news we see each night, it is admittedly replete with visceral images. The violence, however, is not gratuitous and instead illustrates an important point: the American Dream is actually a bloody, horrific nightmare.
Filmed both before and after the 2016 presidential election, Clooney admits Suburbicon is a movie coloured by the anger and disillusionment of the people who made it. Watching Suburbicon may be a cathartic cinematic experience, but the story is a hopeful one that retains a tinge of optimism.
Suburbicon premieres at The Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, September 8.