Following well-received morning screenings of George Clooney’s Suburbicon, the filmmaker and stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore discussed the 1950s-set crime comedy/drama with international journalists at the Venice Film Festival. The SRO press conference quickly turned to the current state of America which the movie immediately calls to mind.
Suburbicon, based on a script the Coen brothers wrote in the 1980s and which Clooney and Grant Heslov updated, is a mix of satire, noir and social commentary. It’s also an “angry” film as Clooney noted this afternoon. “People are angry. We’re angry at ourselves, at the way the country is going, the way the world is going. This (film) seems to reflect that and I think that’s probably a fair thing to do. But I didn’t want this to just be a civics lesson. I wanted it to be funny, but it’s certainly angry and it got angrier as we were shooting.”
The plot features two juxtaposed stories unfolding in the titular, and supposedly idyllic, town. One centers on Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) a husband and father caught up in the sinister aftermath of a home invasion — and the awful choices he just continues to make. The other is about the Meyers, a black family that’s just moved in next door and is being violently attacked by a racist mob — and blamed for the unsettling occurrences in the neighborhood.
Damon, whose character uses his son’s bike as getaway transportation in one desperate scene, today said, “It’s the definition of white privilege where you’re riding around your neighborhood on a bicycle, covered in blood and murdering people — and the African American family is getting blamed for it.”
In these days of “Make America Great Again” rhetoric, a theme at this festival has been the perception that the mid-20th century is that ideal period to which MAGA supporters seek a return. Guillermo del Toro talked about it the other day in reference to his The Shape Of Water, and Clooney today noted it as well.
“The Eisenhower ’50s were great if you were a straight white male,” said Clooney. “Lift up the veil and you see problems of the country that it hasn’t come to terms with. Unfortunately these issues are never out of vogue in our country and we’re still trying to exorcise them.”
The racial tensions in Suburbicon are based on real events in 1950s Levittown, Pa but also immediately call to mind the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Va.
The film was shot a year ago and so there would have been no way to predict that what happened in Charlottesville would transpire shortly before Suburbicon‘s premiere, Damon noted. But the project was nevertheless born during the U.S. presidential campaign when Clooney was watching speeches about “building fences and scapegoating minorities.”
Films, he said, “are used to put a pin in history. That’s when they work really well. (Today) it’s the angriest I’ve ever seen the country, and I lived during Watergate. There’s a dark cloud living over our country right now.” But Clooney allowed he is an “optimist” and believes in the youth of America, and the ability of government to work.
Moore plays the dual roles of Damon’s wife and sister-in-law. Asked if as a mother herself she believes that younger generations will do better than the current one, she responded: “The only way they will is if the generation before them is doing that as well.” With that, she turned to the controversy in the U.S. about Civil War statues which kicked off the violence in Charlottesville. “In the U.S., people are arguing about monuments. They must be removed. You simply cannot have these figures from the Civil War in town squares and universities for our children to see.”
Clooney added, “I grew up in Kentucky and they would come to my hometown to do Civil War reenactments and they’d go to the townspeople and you got to pick if you wanted to be a Union or a Rebel soldier. You wanted to be the Rebel, it was fun. You didn’t really understand the history of the Confederate flag… Now, if you want to wear it on your t-shirt or hang it off of your front lawn have at it, good luck with your neighbors. But to hang it on a public building where, partially, African American taxpayers are paying for it? That cannot stand and we have to come to terms with those things.”
Clooney is revered here and his press conference was typically jammed today. It was also lighthearted at times, despite the intense talk on such serious subjects.
To wit: Damon was asked how Clooney has evolved since they’ve known one another. “The key is when he gives you a piece of direction, you do the exact opposite,” he grinned. “It’s like he’s the greatest director in the world. You are always locked in, know exactly what to do and it’s great.”
Then Clooney fielded one final question: Would he like to be the next president? “Oh, that sounds like fun,” he said, and added, “I’d like anybody to be the next president — and right away please.” Cue applause and laughter in the room.
Oscar Isaac and Noah Jupe (The Night Manager) also star in Suburbicon which has its official world premiere in competition tonight.
Paramount releases the Black Bear Pictures-backed production that’s produced by Clooney, Heslov and Teddy Schwarzman on October 27 domestically.