Review / ‘Suburbicon’ (MA) *** and a half

ADVANCE reports about writer/director George Clooney’s cautionary tale of racial hatred and other unpleasant goings-on in a new, middle-American town (“all built out of ticky-tacky and all looking the same”) to accommodate servicemen returning from World War II, called it a comedy.

Such comedy as it delivers is a discomforting blend of ha-ha and peculiar. Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov have adapted a never-filmed screenplay by the Coen brothers into a film noir that takes a somewhat jaundiced view of a community in uproar when Afro-American Mr and Mrs Mayers buy a house in a suburb built for white folks.

In 1957, riots indeed erupted in Levittown, Pennsylvania for that reason. But “Suburbicon” draws less on those than on the Lodge family – father Gardner (Matt Damon), mother Rose (Julianne Moore) and 11-year-old Nicky (Noah Jupe) – dealing with bullies and other crims intent on overturning the even tenor of the family’s life.

Evil plays a major role in developing the film’s plot. Most of it unfolds in the Lodge’s house. Two extortionist bullies set the ball rolling by chloroforming the family during a home invasion. A smarmy insurance agent later arrives to bully Rose into giving details of a claim that may reveal Gardner’s involvement in a malfeasance. On the street, cars and houses burn.

The film’s film noir flavour also provides moments that some might consider comedy. But the smiles come only sparsely, interspersed with death slowly consuming the Lodge family. Nicky’s friendship with young Andy Mayers (Tony Espinosa) provides a coda that Clooney probably intended as a metaphor for later improvements in race relations, which alas continue to plague the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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