Square, The

By Michael T. Dennis
“The Square," a gripping film noir from the breakout Australian duo, the Edgerton brothers, is distributed in the U.S. by the enterpreneurial comany, Apparition.  The film’s handling of ordinary people whose lies and misdeeds tumble out of control evokes the early work of the Coen brothers, but with a more natural tone and lack of comic irony.
The plot is an example of acrobatic storytelling. Everything begins simply enough, with an affair between bored, middle-class Raymond and his feisty, young, neglected neighbor, Carla. The pair entertains dreams of running away together, but the realities of daily life make it less than likely–until Carla stumbles upon a bag of money stashed away by her husband Smithy, a blue-collar grunt with some unspecified criminal activity on the side.
To Carla the money represents another shot at the dreams deferred by her commonplace life and marriage. But for Ray, getting away with it means tempting fate and playing a dangerous game of strategy. His plan to hire a cheap arsonist to cover his tracks turns out to be a get-what-you-pay-for proposition, and soon things have spiraled out of control with a large cast of characters drawn into the dealings.
One of the things that makes “The Square” so much fun to watch is the way in which, even as the story is elevated and strands of the plot intertwine with one another in unexpected ways, somehow it all remains clear and easy to follow. This is no small accomplishment, especially since so many important moments hinge on small details. The Edgerton brothers wisely keep the focus on Ray and Carla, allowing the story to revolve around them, thereby inviting us to the center of their troubled lives.
Soon the whole town is consumed by the series of misfortunes, which include not just fires but blackmail, deaths, and disappearances as well. Ray and Carla find solving their problems to be a Sisyphean task; every time they eliminate an obstacle to freedom, they find that their efforts have caused a new problem to crop up in its place. They remain set on being together, but with more and more to feel guilty about, their happy future is put in serious jeopardy.
Eventually Ray stops being cautious and takes his last best chance, which is not so much a proactive decision as it is a surrender to the chaos he himself initiated. Interests converge and the film closes with a climactic showdown of wills that benefits greatly from being so long in coming to pass.
In telling this story, the filmmakers demonstrate an uncanny ability to navigate the narrow corridor between cliché and gimmick. “The Square” plays on countless crime drama conventions but takes its own path at the right moments so that the surprises are real and the ending, which is, predictably, not a happy one, fits perfectly.
This narrative style is complemented by the realistic cinematography: The camera is fluid, yet controlled and the backdrop of a balmy Australian Christmas will seem eerily out-of-place to American viewers.
In both look and tone, “The Square” recalls a recent era of crime thrillers, extending from “Fargo” and “A Simple Plan” to “No Country for Old Men.”  Instead of following what has become a prevalent American paradigm (blending dark comedy with mystery, action, and/or suspense), “The Square” poses less as a fable, and instead offers an uncommon projection of how this sort of thing could play out in real life. Morality is left to the audience, without any truly righteous character (or even a partially righteous one) to keep things in perspective. The image of a world where out-of-control passions and layers of lies mean that no one can be trusted is indeed a frightening one.
As a result, “The Square” approximates classical film noir by directors who were masters of the conventions of their era, using careful exaggeration and manipulation of the medium to create tableaux that were familiar, yet somehow “off” in the way they brought evil into the lives of ordinary people.
Some of the comparison with the Coen brothers comes from the fact that “The Square” is also the product of a creative team of brothers. Joel and Nash Edgerton are leading members of the newly-formed cooperative Blue-Tongue Films, which has made its way to Hollywood from all the way Down Under. With experience as actors, editors, stuntmen and writers, the members of Blue-Tongue deserve consideration as a unified ensemble even with just a handful of projects to their collective name.
For “The Square” Nash directs and co-edits, while Joel acts and takes credit for the original story. Nash's short film “Spider” plays with “The Square,” wiping away audience expectations and supplying a devilish taste of what is to come.
Along with Luke Doolan, who co-edited “The Square” and also helmed the Oscar-nominated short “Miracle Fish” in 2009, the Edgerton brothers and Blue-Tongue are well on their way with this solid feature debut. The experience of watching “The Square” is captivating; just as the frustration of watching things go from bad to worse can be painful at times, it proves that the connection forged between character and audience is capable of weathering the storm.
Raymond Yale – David Roberts
Carla Smith – Claire van der Boom
Billy – Joel Edgerton
Greg “Smithy” Smith – Anthony Hayes
Lenoard Long – Brendan Donoghue
Australian Film Finance Corporation, Film Depot Pty. Ltd., and Igloo Films, in association with New South Wales Film & Television Office and Blue-Tongue Films
Distributed by Apparition
Directed by Nash Edgerton
Written by Matthew Dabner and Joel Edgerton
Producers, Matthew Dabner, Joel Edgerton, Nash Edgerton, and Louise Smith
Original Music, Frank Tetaz
Cinematographer, Brad Shield
Editors, Luke Doolan and Nash Edgerton
Casting, Kristy McGregor
Production Designer, Elizabeth Mary Moore
Art Director, Angus MacDonald