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Review: ‘The Square’

Aussie Noir

Above: Australian filmmakers Joel and Nash Edgerton.

Audio

Aired 4/21/10

Australian filmmaking brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton serve up a neo-noir tale with “The Square" (opening April 23 at Landmark's Ken Cinema). Listen to my review.

Australian filmmaking brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton serve up a neo-noir tale with “The Square" (opening April 23 at Landmark's Ken Cinema). Listen to my review.

To set the proper mood for “The Square,” filmmaking brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton preface the feature with their 2007 short “Spider.” The opening title for "Spider" states: “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” The quote is attributed to Mum and perfectly primes the viewer for a tale about the perils of practical jokes.

Jack: "Babe it was a joke."

Jill: "Always Jack you go too far, always you take things too far by one step."

This nifty ten-minute film pays off brilliantly and lays thematic groundwork for the feature that follows. In the case of “The Square,” it’s not a practical joke that goes too far but rather a scheme that quickly gets out of hand. As with the short, no one in “The Square” intends to harm anyone else but once this classic noir plot is set in motion one thing inevitably leads to another, and bodies pile up.

"The Square"

Apparition

Above: "The Square"

But it all begins with a bag of money that Smithy (Anthony Hayes) brings home and tries to hide. But before he can tuck it all away, his wife Carla (Claire van der Boom) comes home and spies what he's doing. Carla’s instincts tell her that the cash her hubby’s trying to stash is most likely stolen. So she heads over to her lover Ray (David Roberts) who conveniently lives across the river. Then she suggests they steal the money and leave town. The only catch is they have to make sure Smithy doesn’t suspect anything. So Ray comes up with a plan to take the money and then hire an arsonist to burn the house down.

Billy: "Let me talk you through it. First, we don’t about it out loud or to anybody else, whatever happens here stays between us understand. Second, once it’s done you wipe it away. It never happened and we never met."

Well that’s all fine and dandy except that something goes wrong.

News anchor: "Tragically an elderly lady lost her life in the blaze…"

Carla’s mother-in-law is the first to fall victim in “The Square.” As with most noir plots, once a plan is set in motion it has only one course to run with the participants doomed to a fate of deception, betrayal, and murder. But unlike the classic film noir setting of a shadowy urban cityscape lit by smoky neon, this Australian noir serves up a rugged landscape alternately baked by the sun and drenched by the rain. It also chooses to set its tale of crime and passion during the holidays. So all the holiday cheer and good will provide an ironic backdrop for this dark tale. So blackmail notes come on festive Christmas cards and Christmas lights provide the perfect tool for arson. It’s a subtle perversion that runs through the film.

"The Square"

Apparition

Above: "The Square"

In another twist to conventions nature -- and I don’t mean human nature -- plays a role. In Aussie noir the terrain as well as the wildlife can be dangerous. Just stepping off your dock into the water can be a risky thing.

Billy: "Is it true what they say about the sharks down there?"

Yep, the sharks are dangerous and so are the people, almost all of whom carry firearms and seem to enjoy using them. All Carla and Ray may want to do is to take some stolen money and slip off into the night together. They never intend to hurt anyone but once they’re linked by a death, well then nothing turns out to be easy and everyone grows suspicious of each other.

Although the Edgertons strain credibility as times, they craft an effective contemporary noir about greed and desire. They deliver multiple twists and turns but keep the tone low key and gritty in order to play down the improbability that fate could be this cruel.

"The Square"

Apparition

Above: "The Square"

Directed by Nash and co-written by brother Joel, “The Sqaure” draws on classic noir elements from the forties as well as more recent works like the Coens’ “Blood Simple.” After one death, Ray suggests that he can make it all better, which is an obvious impossibility to any sane individual. But these folks have gone, as author Dashiell Hammet once explained, “blood simple,” and that’s a particular kind of crazy brought on by an immersion in violence.

“The Square” is a well crafted, cautionary noir tale about taking that first step into a moral abyss. To paraphrase the boys’ mum, it’s all fun and games till the bodies start piling up.

Companion viewing: "Blood Simple," "A Simple Plan," "Too Late for Tears"

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