This feature film noir debut, created by an Australian stunt man turned director and his actor brother turned writer, makes Kimberly Gadette wonder: Will the film live up to the intriguing resumes of its filmmakers?
Ray is a fifty-ish construction site foreman – his inamorata is the much younger, bland hairdresser named Carla. They are supposedly in love, desperate to ditch their spouses and run off together. But when their dogs (his poodle, her boxer) are the only two creatures generating any believable heat, then maybe this film isn't up to, um, sniff.
The Square opens with two vehicles parked under an overpass. The two cute doggies are peering out the window in one vehicle, panting as they watch their owners paw and mount in the other. Cut to the next scene: as the autos start to pull away, Carla (Claire Van der Boom) tosses a jacket out of her vehicle to Ray (David Roberts), verbalizing the one cheery delivery in the entire piece as she says, "Are you trying to get me in trouble?" Shortly thereafter, Carla finds her husband's stashed bag of cash which she assumes is stolen, and suggests to Ray that they take it and run off together. As one would expect with film noir, arson, theft, blackmail, manslaughter and midnight burials ensue.
Though this might sound like noir Coen Bros. (Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men), it's not. For one, the movie is bereft of any sardonic humor. For another, the characters bring a dearth of fascinating, memorable quirks to the proceedings. Instead, the mostly male cast mashes into one faceless lump.
Perhaps the film is closer to James M. Cain country (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice) – especially since the inciting incident revolves around a woman manipulating her lover in order to escape her spouse and score a sack of cash. Again, no. What's lacking is a steamy femme fatale who can stir so much such sexual fever that her lover obeys her every command. Sadly, Carla can barely stir her coffee.
It's not solely the actors' fault. The filmmakers Edgerton have not allowed the couple any chance to cling, to clutch, to express any loving emotions whatsoever. Instead, she whines at him about the need to leave her husband while he finds excuses to drag his feet. Plainly put, these are not people who enjoy each other's company.
So if it's not lust, love or greed (Ray can get money in a whole other smarmy way), then is it fear or loathing of their spouses that drives this tepid twosome? Well, Ray's wife does question him about a sweater at the bottom of his closet and Carla's husband does request that she bring him some beer ... no doubt about it, we're talking barbaric. On the other hand, if this kind of behavior causes arson, theft and murder, then every last one of us is doomed.
Can we at least have fun figuring out who's instigating the blackmail? Denied. A smart mystery would dole out enough clues to allow the more astute audience members to play along ... sadly, the operative word here is "smart." Rather than intrigue, the pile-up of confounding issues in The Square merely bores, hindered by pacing that is uniformly slow rather than suspenseful.
Leading man David Roberts starts off tired and upset and has nowhere to go. His anxiety barometer can be measured by the amount of four-letter words he employs per sentence. In other words, the more "fucks" equals the more fucked. Now you know.
However, two actors manage to inject some life into the proceedings: writer Joel Edgerton as the highly-wrought arsonist and his timorous companion, played by Hanna Mangan-Lawrence (resembling a young Meg Tilly). They're so off-kilter that they are oddly right for each other, their scenes played with bite and conviction. If only that could be said for the rest of the cast.
As for the film's palette, it looks like some wet mud from Ray's construction site splattered up onto the lens, resulting in low-lit scenes tinted in tones of dried mustard and old socks. Even the soundtrack is annoyingly repetitive.
The Square: unlike its title that alludes to sharp points, right angles and a neat package, we're mired down by something altogether unformed and messy. Perhaps a more fitting name would have been The Blob.
Rating on a scale of 5 reasons to rush from the theater screaming: 1.5
Release date: US: 9 April 2010 (ltd), wider release 21 May 2010; UK: tbd
Directed by: Nash Edgerton
Screenplay by: Joel Edgerton & Matthew Dabner
Based on an original story by: Joel Edgerton
Cast: David Roberts, Claire Van der Boom, Joel Edgerton, Anthony Hayes
Rating: US = R; UK = tbd
Running time: 101 minutes