The Square

May, 2010, Thriller



Three years ago, long-time Australian stuntman Nash Edgerton made a wickedly perverse short film entitled Spider; its cunning use of the camera and Edgerton’s sick sense of humor made it almost certain that he’d get a shot at directing a full length feature. Sure enough, a year later he directed and edited this refreshingly straightforward thriller which features his brother Joel as co-screenwriter and member of the cast. Some critics have compared this movie’s lean style and matter-of-fact take on human morality to the Coen Brosthers early gem Blood Simple; while not as genuinely groundbreaking as that film, Square combines an entirely believable storyline with a host of perfectly-tuned performances and a slick plot twist to provide one of the best melodramas of the year. May the brothers Edgerton, like the Coens, visit audiences again.


Middle-aged construction manager Raymond Yale falls for Carla Smith, the pretty, young wife of Greg “Smithy” Smith, a local thug who has stashed a large amount of ill-gotten cash in the crawl space above the laundry room of his home. Ray, trapped in a marriage which has long since lost any reason for continuing and head over heels in lust with the delectable Carla, agrees to hire an arsonist to torch the Smith’s home after Carla has stolen her husband’s loot. But the arson unexpectedly morphs into murder and the lover’s plan to discreetly leave town with Smithy’s money quickly but logically unravels into a nerve-wracking effort to conceal the money while Ray works feverishly to deflect the efforts of those who grow suspicions about what actually happened and who’s to blame - - especially the unknown person who begins sending him increasingly ominous extortion notes…


The largely unknown Australian cast is uniformly excellent; they deliver the script’s blue-collar dialogue in uninflected monotone, cloaking the action with a deft sense of unarticulated tension. The plain-vanilla cinematography, (perhaps due as much to budgetary constraint as aesthetic point of view) perfectly underscores the mundane actions of small town life which time and again throw unexpected obstacles into Ray’s efforts to obfuscate about what he and his inamorata are desperately engaged in.


But it’s the matter-of-fact cynicism of the characters which most directly suggests comparison to the Coen brothers; adultery, physical intimidation, illegal kick-backs and outright theft are presented in such a nonchalant manner that Ray’s slide into premeditated mayhem seems nearly inevitable. Yet as The Square unfolds, Edgerton grows a bit too fond of the extended close-up; as the screenplay tightens the screws on its principal felons, the director chooses to spend too much time staring at them in close-up, allowing his actors’ expressions to do a fair amount of the story telling. Alas, the plot (and the thespian skills his cast?) can’t rise to the demands placed on them. As a result, the final third of the film visibly drags, making the its 1 hour 45 minute running time seem unnecessarily padded.


That disappointment aside, this off-hand, unassuming examination of the human capacity for turning bad decisions into truly horrific ones makes for a good time in the dark.


The verdict? A for effort, B+ for execution.       

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