Well and Truly Screwed - The Square (2008)

In a slight reworking of Jean-Luc Godard's famous adage “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun”, I'd like to suggest the addition of ….“and a big pile of cash” because it's often the cinematic lubricant that makes normal people do bad things. In Joel and Nash Edgerton excellent Aussie thriller “The Square” (2008), it all begins with one bad decision, and like a lot of bad decisions in the movies, this one involves a satchel full of dirty money. The two main characters are lured to it and spend the rest of the film trying to extricate themselves from a series of increasingly horrifying ramifications tied to the act of stealing it. This is neo-noir at it's finest – a small, nearly unknown film that delivers in spades. In a world for full of glee and idols, it's downright refreshing to see a movie about people getting fucked because they deserve it. ....and we're not talking porn here.

The mood of The Square is measured, paranoid and slippery and its suspense a different, crafty sort of accomplishment. The script follows a pair of adulterers and their doomed plan to escape their mundane and loveless lives. It's similar in structure and tone to the Coen's "Blood Simple" but with fewer visual flourishes and a subtler brand of irony. The married (but not to each other) lovers are Ray (played with exquisite control by David Roberts), whose construction project gives the film its title, and Clara (Claire van der Boom), a hairstylist whose husband is a low-level criminal. Early in the film Clara witnesses her scuzzy husband hiding a bag of money and you can almost see the wheels turning as she puts together her plan Dough... Ray.... Me.... 

The screws tighten. The lovers hire an arsonist to dispose of Carla's house, but not before they clear out the money. The arson job goes rather badly, and from there, The Square becomes a study in Roberts' increasingly distraught efforts to maintain a facade of normalcy while guilt, evasion and bodies pile up all around him. A blackmailer enters the narrative, their identity unknown both to Ray and to the audience, at least for a nice long while, and the screws tighten some more. Coworkers start sniffing around ...ditto.

This isn't going to end well for the lovers.

I know I can sound like a broken record heaping kudos on one Film Noir after another, but these little studies in human weakness and frailty afford a distinct, if sour, kind of satisfaction that I rarely get from other genres. The Square is just that kind of film. Along with Terribly Happy and Revanche, it's one of the most engaging films I've seen this year. It got excellent notices from real critics and complaints from amateurs who said the leads lacked chemistry and weren't sexy enough. I'd like to invert that and suggest that The Square works because the leads aren't movie stars but rather people who could live next store. (and on that topic, actor David Roberts is the spitting image of Mark Ellwood, a west end customer)

.... quick side note. Before watching the film, go to the extras and watch the director's short film “Spider”. It sets the mood for the feature beautifully and man o' man …. it's truly sick.




the coelacanth said...

sounds good. kinda like no country? kris tipped me off to this one when it was showing at the t.o. underground, but i wasn't really sure what it was about until now. i'll give it a look on your word, thanks sporg!

Dropkick said...

Really wanted to see this one at the Underground, have heard nothing but amazing things. Now that it has Sporg's noir seal of approval i know it's gonna be a treat. Can't wait to watch this baby.

La Sporgenza said...

Never would have seen this without one of you pointing it out on the order. Nice one.

Not so much like No Country Joe, it's less stylized than the Coen's stuff. This one has a definite Aussie/Brit tone, low budget but handsomely mounted, kinda like McComb.

Joe - you HAVE to see Spider, the short - so "you" it hurts.

Kris - The Square is totally up your alley.

La Sporgenza said...

...and no comment on "Dough, Ray, Me"???

jesus, I thought that was pretty good.

Tough crowd.

the coelacanth said...

speaking of mccomb doppelgangers, i watched spellbound for the first time a couple weeks ago and was struck at how, in so many scenes, greg peck was a dead ringer for our shaun. creepy.

svanegmond said...

Gaaaaaaaaah. I'm watching this movie now. So good!

Can customers post?

the coelacanth said...

right now the blog is for film buff staff only, but please feel free to leave as large a review as you wish in the comments section. right here. we encourage it.

svanegmond said...

Yeah, post. Reply. Say something.

The Square is the kind of movie that could drive a man to drink.

The movie's economy impressed me. It is a slow-mo accelerating disaster, and watching it happen was nerve-wracking.

The movie's choice of framing, alone, communicates volumes about what's going on. A character with something to say walks through a door labelled "General admissions". A person has just died nastily and the sign reads "Sunscreen station".

The lead male does indeed look like Mark. Fortunately our Mark is a nicer type.

Now if you don't mind, next up is Rope.

La Sporgenza said...

svanegmond..... send my your Rope review and I'll put it up.

Weirdly, I don't think any of us have ever posted on a Hitchcock film, so your review will be most welcome.

go to www.thefilmbuff.com and email me from the home page. I'll pop it on the blog when I get it.