David Roberts in a scene from, 'The Square.'

David Roberts in a scene from, The Square.

Movie Review: The Square

The Square takes us to a quiet middle-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Sydney. Its Christmas time, theres a shark warning for the rivers that lead to the sea, and vacation home builder Ray is having an affair with Carla, a young blonde hairdresser, thats getting dangerously serious.  So serious that he might have to kill someone before the two lovers set off for life somewhere else with someone elses money.

If you think this sounds like Double Indemnity, Billy Wilders 1944 noir, you wouldnt be wrong. Ray (David Roberts), a square family man who seems beyond suspicion, is taking kickbacks from his contractors, and he uses that money to hire a hit man, Billy, to get rid of Smithy, Carlas crooked bully of a boyfriend. Carla (Claire van der Boom) has already grabbed a bag of ill-gotten cash that Smithy hid away. With hearts and bodies pounding, the best-laid plans go awry.  The arsonist burns down Smithys house, but the wrong person dies (an old lady who is sleeping there). And thats just the beginning. Its trouble in paradise. Call it Australian noir.

Claire van der Boom in "The Square"

Claire van der Boom in "The Square"

The Square is the feature debut of director Nash Edgerton, a former stuntman whos part of a team with his actor/co-writer brother, Joel, who plays Billy, and part of a new generation of promising confident talent from Australia that now has opportunities thanks to government funds for local cinema.

Edgerton made a huge splash last year with Spider, a 10-minute short that answers the question of what might go wrong in a car with two young lovers and a pile of gifts that includes a life-like rubber spider. (Its playing with The Square.)

The casts star-less anonymity in The Square gives Edgertons sex drama an unsettling realism, as if it were taken from a suburban tabloid saga that taunts readers with more details at every unexpected turn – because they see things that they might do?  Nash Edgerton told the crowd at a screening last week that some true stories are layered into his script.

More striking is the risk-taking in juggling multiple sub-plots and injecting humor at the most unlikely moments. Ill leave it to the quote whores to make the obvious declaration that its a stuntmans approach to directing,  but thats still an apt characterization as Edgerton follows lust toward anarchy here.

The films dramatic sequencing is punctuated by an odd ritual. Smithys large dog leaps out of his house, runs down to the river, swims across, and pants at door of Rays house, where a love-struck small female dog waits inside.  The first time it happens, Ray takes the big dog back to its home, and learns with a jolt that the house and the libidinal pet belong to Carla and Smithy. It happens again and again, until the male dog-paddler meets a sad end.

The dog-plot parallel removes any majesty (or is it humanity?) from the tragic inevitability of whats smoldering between Ray and Carla. The dog-like response to instinct gives a new twist to former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barrys famous excuse when caught red-handed with drugs and a woman in a motel room, “the bitch set me up.”
With all the energy and merciless wit in The Square, it seems like the right film to describe as a promising beginning. Yet this beginning has been sitting on a shelf for a while. It showed at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009, and lay around until Apparition Films (a new company) released it this week in the US.  Perhaps it was inevitable that this film would make its US premiere in whats turning out to be the Year of the Adulterer.

The Edgertons get the tone right in the films setting – a waterfront suburb far beneath the A-list where the locals drink beer and the skill-impaired construction workers smoke  (and sell) plenty of pot. (Sure sounds like a place or two in the Rockies.) David Roberts fits into the mix as the builder diving into the welcome adventure of a love affair and then haunted by what his own recklessness. As Carla, Clair van der Boom (recently seen in HBOs The Pacific) is delicate and daunting in her eagerness to have Ray abandon everything and take this adventure to the wall. Well be seeing more of her.

Is The Square part of an Australian “New Wave” ? Theres certainly a new government policy that made this film possible.  And its style and rawness have much in common with The Kingdom, David Michods epic (which premiered at Sundance) about a tight Melbourne crime family, run by a ruthless matriarch. Michod, by the way, wrote the script for Spider.

We know theres talent in this younger Australian generation, and in the deep acting pool tapped for these new films. Maybe there are a few Australian films left in them before Hollywood poaches in that territory.

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