by George Sax
The four principal characters in Nash and Joel Edgerton’s noiristic The Square are morally compromised or just dirty as the movie gets under way. And they only get more so as it goes forward.
Particularly Ray (David Roberts), a late-fortyish construction company manager in a small Australian community that’s so peaceful its police chief guiltily admits to being relieved when he finally has a couple of possible crimes to investigate. This is one of two or three nicely played and observed atmospheric touches in this first-time feature by the Edgerton brothers, who have been making commercials and award-winning shorts for more than a decade. (Their snarkily and adolescently amusing and gross short, “Spider,” precedes their feature’s showing.) But these nice touches are all but lost in the increasingly busy and complicated narrative of The Square as it becomes less focused and involving.
The first scene depicts a scene of midday lovemaking in a car between Ray and Carla (Claire Van der Boom), a younger, blond woman from his neighborhood. (They’re in her car even though his is bigger and presumably more accommodating for their tawdry, adulterous exertions.) Soon she’s presenting Ray with an opportunity and a semi-ultimatum: Abscond with her and the secreted proceeds from one of her husband Smitty’s (Anthony Hayes) criminal enterprises. Or else. Ray reluctantly arranges for an arsonist to cover the couples’ responsibility for the theft, but the web whose weaving they’ve unknowingly begun entangles them even as they struggle to free themselves. Ray, around whom most of the movie revolves, is both the author and victim of an ever-increasing series of terrible unintended consequences. If ever there was a schnook who could be said to be in over his head it’s he.
The Edgertons’ movie—Nash directed, Joel co-wrote it—begins with some promise. They seem to have assembled some standby elements of the genre: femme fatale luring poor love-blinded guy into deceit and felonies; a decidedly unsympathetic male spouse; appalling plans gone appallingly awry. We might anticipate something that builds the kind of tension that used to be found in the novels of James M. Cain, but any such hope is thwarted. The Edgertons don’t seem to have got the hang of this kind of thing.
Cain’s tales of lust, larceny, and human liquidation carried a suspenseful charge even as they vaguely suggested a Greek-classical doom shadowing. In The Postman Always Rings Twice, the briskly clever scenes in which the lovers’ cynical lawyer effects a deal that lets his clients go free is smartly ironic. The Edgertons have nothing so tensely laconic. They’ve mostly resorted to embroidering and sticking plot turns on the narrative. By the movie’s conclusion there have been five unintended deaths, four of them the result of Ray’s frantic efforts to get away with what he’s already done. By then The Square has begun to seem a little comic in its excess, but that too is obviously unintended. (I haven’t even mentioned what happens to Smitty’s dog.) At the same time, they’re rather cavalier about seemingly crucial details, like just what Smitty’s been up to.
The Edgertons have abundant film-making skills. In one impressively constructed scene in which Ray, in his pickup, is being pursued by a biker, they’ve shot it almost entirely in the truck cab and its staged and edited in a claustrophobically exciting fashion. But too much of the rest of their movie seems overheated and lumpy.
Watch the trailer for The Square
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