Thursday, October 7, 2010

DVD Review: The Square

The Square *** ½
Directed by:
Nash Edgerton.
Written By: Joel Edgerton and Matthew Dabner.
Starring: David Roberts (Raymond Yale), Claire van der Boom (Carla Smith), Joel Edgerton (Billy), Anthony Hayes (Greg 'Smithy' Smith), Lisa Bailey (Wendy), Lucy Bell (Martha Yale), Paul Caesar (Sergeant Gary Miles), Kieran Darcy-Smith (Barney), Brendan Donoghue (Leonard Long).

The Square was the first of two Australian crime dramas to be released in America this year by a related group of filmmakers that together represent a new wave of Australian filmmakers – one more promising than anyone since Peter Weir came out of there decades ago. The other film was Animal Kingdom, and although it was released second, I saw it first, and no matter how good this film is, that one is even better. Perhaps that’s because Animal Kingdom was more focused on its characters, whereas The Square is pretty much all plot from the word go. But it is a great plot – a twisty, turny thriller that goes off in multiple directions that I never saw coming.

The setup is classic noir – a normal guy Ray (David Roberts) is having an affair with a younger woman, Carla (Claie van der Boom). They are both married, but want to run away together – he perhaps because he is bored with his life and his wife, and Carla makes him feel young. She because her husband, Greg (Anthony Hayes) is a violent asshole. But Greg does have a lot of money hidden in their house, and Carla knows where it is. They hit on a plan to steal the money, and then burn the house to the ground so Greg won’t know the money was stolen. But of course, things never goes as planned in a film like this.

And that’s all the plot I will reveal about The Square – because the biggest pleasure of the film is to watch the plot unfold. It isn’t the only scam Ray has on the go though, and as this and all his other scams blow up in his face, and as more and more people start finding out what is going on, more and more bodies start to pile up. And it was all supposed to be so simple.

The Square is a movie where literally everything that can go wrong in their plan does go wrong. If I were to lay it all out for you step by step, you would rightly think that the series of events in the film were improbable at best, impossible at worst. And yet, each twist in the movie, each mistake that leads to another dead body, seems completely plausible at the time it takes place in the movie – not just that it seems inevitable and inescapable. The film plays like one of the Coen brothers thrillers – something like Blood Simple or Fargo, where things go wrong simply because they can, and the characters try and readjust and move forward, and do a remarkably good job of it, until the next castrophe catches them and they start all over again.

I admired the film a great deal because nothing in it seems forced, not the plot twists, not the characters, not any of the violence in the film. It unfolds naturally, and though there are some typical “thriller” scenes, like a car chase, they play out naturally, and don’t go for heightened effect. The same goes for the characters. Ray, although he is the typical noir hero, drawn in by a beautiful woman into doing something he doesn’t want to do, isn’t quite the sap we often get here. He didn’t really want to do what they did in the first place – but he went along, probably because he’s thinking more with his dick than with his head (one of the things I admired about the film is that it joins the story already in progress – we never find out how Ray and Carla met, or when they hooked up). Carla for her part plays the part of the femme fatale, but really isn’t one. For that to be true, I think there needs to be some sort of malice on her part, and she is innocent of that. She simply wants out of her unhappy marriage, and sees the money and Ray as her ticket out. She doesn’t use him, like a femme fatale would, but actually does seem to want to run away with him.

I also liked the end of the film. While it would appear that it wraps everything up neatly, I wonder if it actually does. I see Ray still squirming at the end of the film, still trying to get out of the mess he has made for himself, and still letting the bodies pile up all around him. Poor guy never knew what hit him.

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