The Square
With all this rain, when did we land in a John Cusack film?

Theatrical Release Date: 04/23/2010
Director: Nash Edgerton
Cast: David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Joel Edgerton, Anthony Hayes, , Kieran Darcy-Smith, Peter Phelps, Bill Hunter, Brendan Donoghue, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Lucy Bell, Damon Herriman, Paul Caesar

No, this is anything but a Pixar film but if you buy a ticket for “The Square”, you’ll also be treated to the short film, “Spider”. Both are directed by Nash Edgerton, an up and coming Australian stuntman turned director who, based on his latest effort, might be the next big thing from Down Under.

“Spider” is a fantastic lead in to “The Square” and centers on a couple in the middle of a fight. The boyfriend has done something to cross the line (as he apparently always does) and his attempt to make things right as they drive down a Sydney street only leads to some extreme complications. I won’t give away anything more than that but this is perhaps one of the smartest shorts I’ve seen placed with a film, as it helps American audiences settle into the accent (for those who may be unaccustomed) and also sets the tone for what’s to come.

As for the feature film, many of the promotional materials are billing “The Square” as a triumph of the noir genre and after talking with another critic about this, I suppose that’s accurate. Whereas I consider noir a convention of films from the 40s, in modern times utilizing themes of betrayal, grifting and the like apparently counts so I’ll capitulate to that notion.

What I won’t find argument with is the talent on display. Whether it’s in front of the camera via the actors who all deliver excellent performances or behind it via Nash’s direction or his brother Joel’s script (co-written by Mathew Dabner), it’s an impressive effort and worth the hype.

The story revolves around Ray (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom) – a couple cheating on their spouses. However, it would be a fairly typical story if they just cheated and ran away together. No, they first concoct a scheme utilizing a third party (further complicating things) to steal thousands of dollars from Carla’s husband, who himself garnered the funds in some nefarious and unnamed manner with his dodgy friends. At the same time, Ray is using his job at a construction site to get a kickback from the cement company he awarded the contract to. All of this comes to a head, of course, and it’s just a matter of who (if anyone) will come out alive with all the money in hand.

There are a lot of twists and turns as the characters all try to outwit, blackmail and avoid the players they know about while coming face to face with others they had no idea existed thanks to the small circle of shady people that’s been created within the whole mess. This is definitely not a film that you step out for a smoke on once things get rolling, as you’re liable to miss an important confrontation.

This element is where the Edgerton brothers lose a ratings point for me. While I appreciate a smart story of people so caught up in their machinations that they lose the ability to trust anyone, the film’s pacing makes the time it takes to get there feel so much longer than it is, especially because we all know where it’s going – it’s just a matter of what twist will be the last. While the film isn’t overly long in the actual scheme of things at an hour and 45 minutes, it feels more like two hours plus (and I’m not including “Spider’s” 9 minute runtime). While all of the elements in the film were great, I just seemed to lose some interest three quarters of the way through … probably not a good sign.

Still, if you’re a fan of films from the Coen brothers like “Blood Simple” or “No Country for Old Men“, this will be right up your alley. I’m giving “The Square” a 3.5 out of 5 and almost tipped it another bit simply for one scene involving a dog swimming across a river (because it defies normal Hollywood convention). Just make sure to get to the theater on time because you don’t want to miss “Spider” – there’s even a funny, albeit quick and possible hard to spot, tie-in between the two films (hint: it happens during the hospital scene towards the end of the film).