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The Square (2008) ***

May 11, 2010

Written by: Joel Edgerton and Matthew Dabner

Produced by: Louise Smith

Directed by: Nash Edgerton

Rated R for violence and language

105 min.

U.S. Release Date: April 9, 2010 (limited)

After making the rounds in several international film festivals (Syndey, European Film Market, Cannes) in late 2008 and early 2009, and heading to stateside fests later in 2009 (South by Southwest, Seattle, CineVegas), Nash Edgerton’s neo-noir film “The Square” finally finds its way to US theaters for public consumption.  This Australian thriller plays much like a classic 1940s film noir piece in the sense that the characters all seemed damned from the very beginning.  As the viewer, you see the two trains headed straight for each other on the same track, you know how the scenario is going to play out, but you absolutely must watch.  So, is the story alone, amidst the thick Aussie accents and no-name cast, enough to keep your eyes glued on the train wreck?

Raymond Yale (David Roberts) and Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom) are deeply in love and have hopes of being together forever.  The only “problem” is, they’re both married to other people.  As neighbors in a small town in Australia, Raymond and Carla have to keep their relationship so far on the down low, they meet each other out in the woods so they’re not caught by anyone.  Carla’s husband Greg (Anthony Hayes) is a corrupt construction worker who has a large stash of money hidden away in their attic.  One day, Carla stumbles upon the duffel bag filled with cash and tells Raymond about it.  She is determined that she and Raymond need to steal this money and run away to start a life on their own.  Their town is so small, if Raymond, Carla, and the money suddenly disappeared, everyone would figure out what happened.

In order to throw off suspicions, Raymond and Carla hire a man to burn her house down and make it look like an accident.  Having already stolen the money, if the house burned down and Greg thought the money burned up with it, the adulterous couple would be in the clear with thousands of dollars.  Of course, the plan does not work out with the greatest of ease.  I won’t spoil the series of events that follows, but “The Square” is a great example for aspiring filmmakers of how to build suspense with a small budget and a great story.

Considering the poor moral compass of nearly every character in the film, the actors all play their parts very well and bring the viewer deeper into the story.  Pretty much everyone is out for themselves, they’re suspicious of others, and overall cannot be trusted.  Somehow, the director makes you root for Raymond and Carla, despite their plot to outright steal money, burn down a house, and leave their spouses.  Making an audience side with despicable characters is something that is extremely difficult to do as a filmmaker and storyteller.

Like I mentioned earlier, the acting is quite good in “The Square”.  Rather than having a couple standouts, the film features more of an ensemble performance that showcases the chops of many actors.  It’s always a great thing when you can watch a film and not be taken out of the story by an actor’s horrible performance.  Though this film was probably shot nearly four years ago, I hope to see more performances from these actors coming off of the relative success of this effort.

Overall, “The Square” plays like a Greek tragedy penned by Alfred Hitchcock, simultaneously communicating a great deal of suspense along with the inevitable damnation of the film’s characters.  The movie is shot with a slow moving tense visual-style that compliments the strong ensemble performance and the crisp storytelling.  I would strongly recommend making a special trip to your art house theater for a screening of this movie (in Chicago, that theater would be The Music Box).  If you don’t have access to a theater like that in your immediate area, you must pick this up off the rental shelves.  When you do, definitely put the subtitles on to decipher the thick Aussie drawl in “The Square”.

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