September 3, 2010
Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***½
Australian actor Joel Edgerton is probably best known as the young Owen Lars in two of the recent Star Wars films. His younger brother Nash Edgerton has worked as a stuntman. Together they have made a series of short films, and now they team up -- with Joel writing and Nash directing -- for their debut feature, The Square, a twisty film noir not unlike the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple (1985). The difference here is, of course, the "down under" setting, much sunnier and more wide-open than most shadowy, nighttime noirs. But the baser human instincts can fester just about anywhere.
Raymond (David Roberts) is a supervisor on a construction site. He's married, but having an affair with the pretty Carla (Claire van der Boom), who lives across the way. Carla is married to a loutish thug, Smithy (Anthony Hayes), who, for some reason, has a pile of cash lying around the house. Carla approaches Raymond with the notion of stealing some of the cash, and using it to escape and build a new life for themselves. Raymond balks, but for Carla, it's the money or nothing, and so Raymond reluctantly agrees; to make the theft look convincing, he hires an arsonist (Joel Edgerton) to make it look as if all the loot has burned.
Without going much further, it follows that nothing goes according to plan, and the couple must deal with blackmail, annoying corpses, suspicious spouses, and other troubles. Meanwhile, Raymond has tried to initiate a kickback at work, which will pay handsomely. If that money can come through, it could solve everything. This is a very traditional noir, more interested in nasty twists of fate than in a happy ending. The Edgertons cook up a horrible, sludgy feeling of dread. The events of the film don't exactly turn on a dime; they turn on near-misses, impatience and lack of attention. It may be the only film noir in which a happy family picnic with fireworks turns into a place of anxious unease.
Despite the solid plot and mood, the Edgertons don't pay much attention to their characters, even if Raymond is a solidly built character, performed with desperation and sadness by Roberts (Me Myself I). He and Carla never seem to show much heat together, even though we see them romping in the back seat of a car. And, to be frank, the husband Smithy and the arsonist Billy look a bit too much like one another; the film doesn't seem care enough about them to differentiate them more. A crisper, snappier approach could have covered up a lot of sins, as the Coens did with their debut. Nonetheless, this kind of crime film is not easy to make, and the Edgertons have done an admirable job with The Square.
The DVD from Sony comes with a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, a music video, and -- best of all -- a terrific Edgerton short film, Spider (2007). There are optional subtitles to help Americans with the Australian accents.
Posted by cphillips at September 3, 2010 10:26 AM