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 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.