PLOT: Ray, a construction supervisor, is having an affair on his wife. His mistress, Carla, finds a large bag of cash that belongs to her husband, Greg. After deciding to filch Greg's money and burn down his house to make it look an accidental fire, Ray and Carla become blackmailed for a percentage of the loot. A taut web of mystery, intrigue, murder and mayhem ensue!
REVIEW: All I really I knew upon entering THE SQUARE was that it was made by two youngish brothers from Australia, and had something to do with arson, blackmail and revenge. Sounded like my brand of booze, so I figured what the hell! What I got was the cinematic equivalent to nine Long Islands, 'cause I'm still reeling in hangover from such a potent mélange of crime, violence, humor, and some of the best first time filmmaking I've seen in some time. Directed by Nash Edgerton, from a story conceived and script co-written by brother Joel (who also stars), THE SQUARE is a well-soldered puzzle about the lives of those on society's fringe, whose desires to escape the dreary routine of everyday life lead to a series of nefarious plotting, double crossing, and for some, an irrevocable fate. A very solid debut!
We kick off amid a forbidden tryst, where Ray (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom) know that meeting each other on extended dog walks is becoming a bit too risky. You see, they just live across the river from each other, and Carla's bulldog takes every opportunity to swim across and canoodle with Ray's shiatsu (that's right mofo, I used the word canoodle, deal). In front of Ray's wife, no less. Things are getting too sticky. We then meet Greg (Anthony Hayes), Carla's tow-truck driving hubby and low-rent mobster who's secretly harboring a large bag of cash. When Carla happens upon the doe, she proposes she and Ray steal the money, burn down the house and head for the hills in adulterous lust. Quite a plan, right? Wrong. Depending on your own sensibilities, what happens from here can be construed as either a comedy of errors, or a tragedy of circumstances. To me it's the combination of both, with emphasis on the latter. Reminds me of the old joke...how do you make God laugh? Make a plan!
What I really liked about the movie is the way the story, which is steeped in pulpiest of crime fiction, uses noir plot conventions but not necessarily a prototypical noir visual structure. The film isn't fraught with venetian blinds, fedoras, low-key lighting, etc., it's set in the modern milieu of the Sydney suburbs. We see salons, exotic restaurants, grimy motel rooms, but none of the iconography is overly self-conscious about what kind of film it's trying to be (the opposite would be something like Rian Johnson's BRICK). That counterbalance only lends itself greater to the unpredictability the film retains throughout. I also think the use of Aussie actors, or more specifically the absence of movie stars, only heightens the sense of grit and realism I believe the Edgertons were after. Furthermore, the actors themselves do an admirable job across the board, with a standout performance by Roberts, playing Ray as a fevered, in-over-his-head adulterer who we sense knows is rapidly coming to his own downfall. He tries to stay one step ahead, but his situation grows untenable, he ends up meandering, mouth agape, brow furrowed, through his own moral descent.
Not much more in the way of plot can be explicated, so let's further dive into the pros and cons of this bad boy. The only real detractors to me aren't really born out of the lack of character development I've seen other writer's take umbrage with. After all, this is essentially a botched heist picture, and by general rule of thumb, heist pictures are unsentimental. That's not to say all character development resides in the sentimental, but without it, it's hard to care about people doing such dastardly dealings. Since this movie's success is hinged so much more on plot than character, I think it only right to find these characters unsympathetic. No, the only real issue I had is some of the plot intricacies became a little too convoluted at times. A bit too ambitious. The twists, the betrayals, the red herrings...and this might be something better judged upon a second viewing, but they seemed a bit too tidy and contrived once we reach the upper-cutting denouement. But hey, I'm sure I was just stoned. Or not stoned enough.
In my eyes (slanted eyes, apparently), the reason why THE SQUARE works so well is the unwavering vision the Edgerton boys seem to have. This is the work of people who know what they want, what kind of tone they look to sustain, what kind of mood they wish to evoke, and ultimately what kind of reactions they intend to elicit from an audience. It's obvious these are competent filmmakers. They're also patient filmmakers. I say that because this is a movie that is slowly built, brick by brick, that gradually erects into a fully realized whole. As we watch early scenes, listen to fragments of dialogue, not knowing exactly what is going on or even how one person relates to another, it would normally be very easy to get confused. Or impatient. Yet I never once felt that I was not in safe hands, that it wouldn't all add up in the end. That's a wonderful compliment to any filmmaker, much less first timers. But take note, this not a flick for the ADD videogame crowd. This a smart, deliberately paced mystery, each clue carefully implanted in one thought-provoking scene after another. Seriously folks, this is what movie storytelling is all about!