Square, The (2010)Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 07/03/09 01:05:40
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2009 CINEVEGAS FILM FESTIVAL: When will people learn that infidelity and crime just don’t mix? I suppose when filmmakers stop putting in them in such positions because they make such darn entertaining movies. Consider all of the directors who have made their marks within the crime and thriller mold. Clint Eastwood started with Play Misty For Me, David Mamet took con games to new heights in House of Games and Quentin Tarantino got his start with a warehouse full of thieves in Reservoir Dogs. The list goes on and on. But there’s a unique correlation between filmmaker brothers working within a noir background that really exudes promise. In 1985 we were introduced to the talents of Joel & Ethan Coen with Blood Simple. 1996 brought us a terrific pre-Matrix Wachowski Brothers effort called Bound. Nash Edgerton worked as a stuntman on those Matrix sequels and, while the connection may be little more than coincidence, along with his brother, Joel, have crafted a solid thriller in the vein of the Wachowski’s Bound and yet one that stands on his own.Carla (Claire van der Boom) may not be the girl next door, but she is the girl across the lake. The married one carrying on secret trysts with the similarly married Raymond (David Roberts) from the other side of the water. Like all tasting of the forbidden fruit, they talk of having it forever, running away together into that fantasy land that’s never on the map for people like this. Or is it this time? One day Carla’s low-rent criminal hubby, Smithy (Anthony Hayes) comes home and stashes a bag full of cash in the attic. Although not completely out of the sight of Carla. Seeing this as their opportunity to make a break for it, she enlists Raymond to be her bagman. As for the rest of their plan, they can make it up as they go along.
Raymond brings in Billy (Joel Edgerton), another local thug who specializes in arson jobs. Hans Gruber may have believed you can slip away after stealing $600, but he also knew the benefit in torching what you leave behind to allay suspicions. Raymond and Carla could have used a Gruber (Hans or Simon) to plot out their escapade, because through the course of their growing pile of mistakes there are more than one McClane for them to deal with. Isn’t that the way it always goes though? No such thing as free money especially once that first casualty enters the picture.
Hopefully you weren’t expecting to learn more about the various characters that enter the picture and each subsequent snafu that twists the noose further. Once the pieces are put into place for the couple’s first under-the-radar criminal act, the dominoes begin falling from there. And then reset. Then pushed over again. And again. That is one of the beautiful freedoms of film noirs. Even if things get too unbelievable, you can goad an audience into acceptance by turning the screws towards black comedy – something the Coens did to perfection in Blood Simple. Like them though, director Nash and co-writer Joel (along with Matthew Dabner) know how important the balance between the two are and develop the dark laughs out of shocking gasps and the slow build to impromptu violence.
It’s to Nash’s great credit that The Square never really approaches a level where we begin laughing off its predicaments. Aside from one moment involving a discovery in a traffic accident that seemed like overkill (since there was no previous mention of it – unless I was so engrossed I just missed it), The Square plays completely fair with our expectations. Characters move through the fringes of these schemes and all have their purpose whether it be to add to Raymond’s cover-ups, solve them or create a secondary mystery involving blackmail that leads to just one of its many satisfying conclusions.
David Roberts (also seen in the Matrix sequels) has the perfect face for this type of material; equal parts sad sack and tough guy depending on the situation. There’s nary a character in The Square that comes off as sympathetic. Everyone from Raymond on down is guilty of some lapse of judgment or greater, but Roberts is able to communicate the occasional sense of remorse for his actions allowing us to somewhat root for the lesser of all the film’s evils. Also very good is Joel Edgerton, who may be most recognizable as the young Uncle Owen from the Star Wars prequels. As a combination of guilty conscience and vengeful rage, Edgerton is simultaneously the most identifable and scariest character in the whole film. Hanna Mangan Lawrence who plays Edgerton’s sister, Lily, is equally good as the kind of meekly unpredictable wild card you have to keep an eye on at all times. As put within the shoes of Raymond’s increasing foibles, we have to reconcile in our minds if we would rather protect Lily or have her eliminated as soon as possible.The Square is only predictable in the manner that all film noirs are predictable. Things are going to go bad. And quickly. Just how bad they go and how they will all tie together is where films like this succeed. Nash Edgerton keeps the bad news coming without resorting to manic pacing or calling attention to its own cleverness. The film’s violence is immediate but never excessive just like its several twists and turns. The Square is a real discovery for all who are able to seek it out. Those who do, I suspect, will have no problem in another decade citing the names of the Coens, the Wachowskis and the Edgertons on their list of siblings who used noir to find the light towards a successful and acclaimed filmmaking resume.
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