From dream to nightmare in Pleasantville

From dream to nightmare in Pleasantville Julianne Moore and Matt Damon star in Suburbicon


George Clooney working with the Coen Brothers? Surely not. Would that not be a bit like Cary Grant teaming up with David Lynch? And yet here he is, doing it for a fifth time and carrying it again, calibrating the twisted parabolas of this jocosely dark parable with a deftness one mightn’t have thought possible from the former ER star.

Ever since he hung up his scalpel he’s busied himself becoming (whisper it) ‘a serious  film-maker’. He often punches above his weight, coming  across as little more than the ‘thinking woman’s crumpet’, but here he aces it in wickedly subversive mood. It’s a coming-of-age moment for Gorgeous George.

In his directorial hands – he co-scripts the film too, along with the Coens – Suburbicon opens up a pastel-shaded  cosmos that’s too good to be true, We know the picket fences are going  to topple like a house of cards as soon as a serpent enters this lace-curtain Garden of Eden.

For the xenophobic, such serpents are represented by blacks, Jews and non-Episcopalians. In the ‘father knows best’ bubble that comprises the John Updike veneer of tidy suburbia, anything that steps outside the MOR matrix is a target.

Imagine, then, how bespectacled milquetoast white collar man Gardner (Matt Damon) might react when the Mafia visits his house one night to terrorise his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and sister-in-law Margaret (also Julianne Moore)?

But nothing is what it seems in Suburbicon. It’s a riddle wrapped inside a mystery.

If you lift the stone where Pollyanna resides, all manner of vermin fester underneath. And not all of them come from ‘outside town’. Or from a different creed – or colour.

Clooney peels off the layers of slime like an onion, vouchsafing us yet more crassness in every quasi-whimsical scene. Moore fiddles and suburbia burns. Is anybody pure? By the time the carnage reveals itself in its full venality you wonder if even little Nicky (Noah Jape) is going to sprout horns.


It’s a captivating film that keeps its symbolism under wraps until the final few minutes. Here the racial integration message is laid on a little too obviously for comfort. Until then, anything can happen – and usually does.

It could yet be my film of the year. If I only give it nine out of 10 it’s because I can’t help feeling, as with all Clooney’s films – even those of the new and improved Clooney – that he’s always ‘getting at’ something. You forgive him here because what he’s ‘getting at’ is so mind-bending.

Suburbicon is the ultimate anti-50s film, the ultimate kick in the teeth to the American dream, the ultimate unpicking of the rottenness that lies at the core of the poisoned apple of Dwight Eisenhower’s tree of knowledge.

To reveal any more would spoil your surprise at a film that cavalierly destroys our faith in the goodness of human nature at every turn. Take a deep breath before you dive in. You might never be quite the same again.

Excellent *****

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