Click here to listen to the interview with Joel Edgerton (17:21)
THE SQUARE is a film noir in the classic mold but with a distinctly contemporary flavor. A good man, the temptation of a younger woman, and an indistinct dream of a happily ever after far from the monotony of a cushy, if bland, married life. It’s told elegantly, intelligently, and with the violent moral code of an angry Old Testament deity for whom right and wrong are absolutes to be toyed with at one’s peril.
The good man is Ray (David Roberts), a contractor who, when the film begins, is in the ironic position of building honeymoon cottages while simultaneously conducting a torrid affair with Carla (Claire van der Boom), whom he thinks is the love of his life. He’s also taking kickbacks to finance his future with Carla, but it’s slow going, much to Carla’s impatient chagrin. Her own marriage is less than ideal, with a troll of a husband, Smithy (Anthony Hayes), who has confused having a wife with having a maid. When Carla spots Smithy hiding a bag that turns out to be stuffed with cash, she pushes Ray to steal it so that they two of then can run away together. Ray, being a sensible guy, points out that the cash is very likely ill-gotten gains that would only bring them trouble. Carla isn’t so easily dissuaded. When Ray jokes that they would have to burn down Carla’s house to make the money safely disappear, she doesn’t see the humor. And after a little persuading, neither does Ray. He hires an arsonist (co-writer Joel Edgerton) to make it look like a Christmas tree lighting accident, and settles back, a little nervously, for his new life to begin.
The decent man driven to extremes is not a new cinematic concept, but this wickedly crafted film makes it seem like an undiscovered county. Ray makes a bad decision, and then another until he is left with nothing but bad decisions from which to choose, though he persists in a desperately determined belief that he is still somehow in control. That is nicely balance by the audience’s objectivity, which brings with it the observer’s equally determined belief that he is not. Cinematic sleight-of-hand keeps that audience on the edge of its seat with feints and misdirection that keep the truth hiding in plain sight. As for Ray, his truth changes from moment to moment as he and the other characters move uncertainly through the paranoia of who knows what, and whether or not they can be dissuaded from what they think they know.
Solid, gritty performances, with equally gritty and solid direction by Nash Edgerton keeps the tension running high with glimpses of things half-seen, conversations, half-heard, and explosions of sound that are not quite as menacing as the silences that hang heavy over Ray’s conscience.
THE SQUARE leaves no loose ends. It also leaves no question about it having served justice to everyone concerned, though, like the film as a whole, it does so with a deeply satisfying and original flair that is as likely to leave the viewer open-mouthed in surprise and awe as in delight.