“The Square” is a terrific film noir with an Aussie twist. Like all good noirs, it has an almost comic appreciation for how the best-laid plans can go horribly wrong. No matter how bad things get, they can always get worse. I watched the film in a state of rapt enjoyment.
There’s a special pleasure in watching the familiar tropes of noir transferred to an “exotic” locale, whether it be the recent Korean film “Mother” or, going back much further, Luchino Visconti’s “Ossessione,” which essentially borrowed the plot of James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” The brainchild of stuntman-turned-first-time-director Nash Edgerton, “The Square” is so promiscuous in its lifts, from Cain and Chandler and everything in between, that the price of admission should include a handy reference guide. But this pileup of borrowings is part of the film’s appeal; we’re encouraged to recognize how cleverly Edgerton has made them his own.
In a sense, noir plots are as rigorously codified as, say, haiku. Originality isn’t essential; execution is all. In “The Square,” we have as its centerpiece a classic noir Everyman – or I should say, Everydupe. Raymond (David Roberts) is a married construction supervisor in suburban Sydney who is carrying on with his married, and much younger, hairdresser neighbor Carla (Claire van der Boom). Raymond keeps promising to leave his wife for her, and when Carla notices that her bullyboy husband, “Smithy” (Anthony Hayes), has stashed a wad of ill-gained loot in the attic, she tips off Raymond and presses him to take her, and the cash, far away.
Any of this sound familiar? Our presentiments of what will happen next only add to the fun. As things become progressively more entangled and botched, and as the body count adds up, the sheer awfulness of Raymond’s predicament hits home. I suppose there’s an element of sadism at work here – for our delectation, Edgerton is basically pulling the wings off flies – but it helps that Raymond and Carla, and just about everybody else in “The Square,” has it coming to them.
Just to rub it in, Raymond’s construction project is called the “Haven Cove Oasis Resort.” There’s something very Coen Brothers-ish about all this. Like the Coens, Edgerton will probably be accused of mean-spiritedness, but you have to be pretty humorless not to be in on the joke here. Fortunately, the first-rate cast members, who also include Edgerton’s co-screenwriter brother Joel as a particularly smarmy arsonist, have been encouraged to act as if they were not in on it. The people who made this movie know that sick jokes are best delivered with a straight face.
Playing with “The Square” in most theatrical locations is Edgerton’s acclaimed short film “Spider,” which confirms, if there was ever any doubt, that this guy likes to laugh in all the “wrong” places. Grade: A- (Rated R for violence and language.)
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