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‘Suburbicon,’ Clooney’s satire about America’s heart of darkness

With their strong bias for style and good looks, it is unsurprising that Italians have such a weakness for George Clooney. And in Venice, he is revered as a local patron saint: he married here, he loves it here and orders lavishly at bars and restaurants, including his favorite, Da Ivo, where he recently footed the bill of over 3,000 euros for a party of five that included Matt Damon.

They surely had plenty to celebrate as Suburbicon the feature Clooney presented as a director in Venice was received with roaring ovation and applause. The plot is simple enough, even though it takes a while to understand what really is going on. Matt Damon (yet again: see our review of Downsizing) plays the role of Gardner Lodge, a bored suburban husband and father of one, who lives with his handicapped wife, Rose, and her look-alike sister, Margaret (both splendidly interpreted by Julianne Moore).


Some scenes are reminiscent of movies by the Coen brothers, and justly so, for the script is based on an original one by them. It’s the late 1950s —for some reason moviemakers keep turning back to these years— and the white flight from American cities towards the nascent suburbs is well under way. Indeed, they turn out in fury against the single black family, the Meyers, which makes the ill-fated decision of moving into Suburbicon, next to the Lodges’ home.

While enraged white neighbors are destroying the property of the Meyers’ and setting their car on fire, a double-crime is unfolding at the Lodges’ next-door, all instigated by Gardner and Margaret. But the mob has surely more important things to do, as the police are unable to contain them.

How you judge this movie will depend on whether you are at ease with irony and sarcasm in the face of tragedy. These crimes happen in America all the time: you hear the testimonies of surprised neighbors afterwards about how nice and average the family next door looked. But especially after Charlottesville and the resumption of the culture wars in the United States, Suburbicon will seem spot-on or ill-timed, again depending on your view of things.

Some critics were disturbed by the coincidence. Inevitably, Clooney was asked at the press conference at the Venice International Film Festival about the timing. “Making a movie takes some two years,” he responded, dismissing the notion that it was intentional. When the project began, there was no hint about controversies with statues of Confederate generals or that Trump would be elected president. But that it came out now, as monsters that have been lurking in the basements of American suburbs are reemerging, makes it an extraordinary coincidence.