The film noir doesn’t get much traffic these days. Maybe extreme cynicism, morally ambiguous characters, and dire endings are a tough sell in mainstream cinema. But every few years, a filmmaker dives headfirst into this hyper-stylized genre, re-inventing the rules and subverting expectations in the process. Nash Edgerton’s The Square fits nicely into this mold, an evolving organism of style and character that begins with miscommunication and slowly grows into full blown tragedy. The Noir aesthetics are all present – blackmail, greed, double-crosses, and murder – but Edgerton makes it a point to complicate each character and action, focusing on complex decisions that produce lasting and often violent consequences.
Ray (David Roberts) lives an ordinary life with his loving wife in Sydney suburb working as the head of the local construction project. He also happens to be having an affair with his beautiful neighbor Carla (Claire van der Boom), a younger woman unhappily married to a small time crook named Smithy (Anthony Hayes). When Smithy brings home a suspicious sack of money, the stage is set for a collective breakdown of trust, morality, and ultimately perception. Edgerton uses this scenario as a starting point, watching the deception slowly creep from one relationship to the next. Weather, nature, and even irony bend into the mix and before you know it, THE SQUARE has become a mini-epic of deceit.
The contorted narrative contains as many twists as a pretzel, but most feel organically tied to Ray’s very complex character arc. The script by Joel Edgerton (Nash’s brother) relies on nuance to display and upend character motivation, often stopping dialogue scenes with moments of quiet that pierce through the tension and create a paramount sense of dread. The Square measures each scene carefully, building, overlapping, and finally eroding each character from the inside out. The ramifications of each action aren’t always immediately felt, but as in the best Film Noir, the most dangerous consequences stem from the minute details of inaction and fate.
The Square is so dependent on it’s serpentine story path that some of the middle act gets muddled in the process, especially a side plot with one of Ray’s co-workers. But overall, Edgerton slyly utilizes Noir iconography, spinning each character like a top until a collective whirlpool consumes everyone involved. What’s most interesting is how Edgerton manages to inject weight in even the smallest details, whether it be the potent moments between the main character’s two dogs, Smithy’s brilliant transitions between aggressor and defender, or even the one calm second before the bloody finale, when each of the converging characters stand together in shock and awe.
Throughout The Square, time slows down to a menacing crawl, and no matter the sunny location, the unpredictable weather, or the character’s motives, the surface often represents only a fraction of the truth. Edgerton’s film watches as each character backs themselves into inescapable corners, closing the vice slowly until finally the paranoia and greed destroy any hope for salvation. Finally, Ray takes a long last walk down the his quiet suburban street, forever wondering why his life went to hell. The Edgerton brothers still won’t give him an easy answer.