Review: The Square ★★★★

The Square (Australia, 105min)
Dir: Nash Edgerton
Starring: David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Anthony Hayes, Joel Edgerton.

Ray (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom) are having an affair. We know this because The Square opens with a couple rapidly going at it in the back seat of a car. Since there’s another car parked beside it, at the spot tucked away under the bridge, it’s obvious this is not a married couple that has pulled over for a quickie.

Both go home to their partners: Ray’s wife, Martha (Lucy Bell) is neither as young nor as sexy as Carla, but she is a sweet woman. Carla, however, returns home to find her husband, Smithy (Anthony Hayes), cleaning blood off himself. Smithy’s a rather dubious character, so Carla immediately pokes around the house and finds a bag full of cash that he’s hidden in the ceiling.

Carla proposes to Ray that they steal Smithy’s dirty money and escape their dull lives. Ray agrees to the plan, although he suggests that they burn the house to avoid any incrimination. Enter Billy (Edgerton), another seedy sort whom the couple hires as an arsonist. All goes well until an unforeseen complication leads the plan awry. Much like Walter and Phyllis in Double Indemnity, Ray and Carla’s alliance soon becomes their liability as their guilt quickly involves into a crippling paranoia that causes them to make the sort of rash decisions that make for thrilling cinema.

Unlike conventional film noir, The Square puts little stock in witty double entendres and obsequious banter. Rather, the film features minimal dialogue and shifts much of the value to the visual realm of the film. Thanks to the endlessly moving camera, Ray and Carla are in constantly on edge. Furthermore, brothers Nash and Joel Edgerton craft a film in which each frame has an immediate sense of danger. Many comparisons have been made of the Edgerton brothers to the Coen Brothers, and it's a fair call: although the Edgertons don't share the Coens' panache for black humor, they deliver a stylish noir in the vein of Blood Simple or No Country for Old Men.

While the brothers succeed in meticulously  capturing the stylistic elements of film noir, the film suffers occasionally in its script, which is usually the strongest aspect of films of the genre. Little explanation is given as to why Ray and Carla are so desperate to seek their lives. Although Smithy clearly has some shady business, Carla never expresses concern for her situation. Ray, meanwhile, seems content with Martha, although they spend one dinner too many in front of the TV. Several other characters are equally unmotivated in the actions that lead to their downfall. There are also a few plot holes and one too many convenient escapes.
Nonetheless, any faults are vastly overshadowed by the film’s unpredictability and by the tension that is made tangible by the superior production efforts. Even when The Square comes to a sudden and explosively messy conclusion, it’s very satisfying. This Aussie film noir is a true “Must See”.