Sony // 2010 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // August 24th, 2010
Some things can't be buried.
Good film noir is so difficult to pull off. It's a genre that's attempted too often, probably because so many of its inherent elements lend themselves to cinematic sensationalism: sex, greed, betrayal and violence tend to make a darkly appealing and audience-ready combination. And, yet, so few contemporary film noirs are any good, likely because filmmakers seem to believe that simply including those elements will bring a movie together. Really, they're just pieces of a puzzle, waiting to be put together by a director capable of making a good film noir.
The Australian film The Square is a very, very good film noir. Directed by former stuntman Nash Edgerton (making his feature debut), The Square tells the familiar film noir story of a man, Ray (David Roberts, Ghost Rider), and a woman, Carla (Claire van der Bloom, Red Hill), who are in love but are not married to each other. As Ray plots to score kickbacks off a construction job of which he's the foreman, Carla hatches a plan to steal a bag full of blood money from her husband, a thug named Smithy (Anthony Hayes, Animal Kingdom), so that she and Ray can run off and start their lives together. So, they hire a local criminal (Joel Edgerton, Smokin' Aces) to burn the house down and make the money seem to disappear. That's when things begin to get complicated.
What makes The Square so excellent -- besides taut direction and a smart screenplay Matthew Dabner and co-star Joel Edgerton -- is that the characters don't know they're in a film noir. Too often in the genre, everyone on screen is all too aware that they're in a specific type of film. The female characters slink and slither about as though they were labeled "femme fatale" at birth and been reminded of it every day since. The men, universally stupid and driven by hormones, aren't manipulated so much by character as they are by the machinations of the plot. In The Square, though, the characters are all, more or less, intelligent. They may behave stupidly, motivated by love and greed, but they are not, at heart, stupid people. Even the petty gangsters are no dummies, making it much harder to get away with ripping them off.
But, of course, nothing in The Square is easy, and that's another reason the movie feels special. When it came out earlier this year (in very, very limited release, after playing in its native Australia over a year ago), it received many favorable comparisons to the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple, and I get the connection. Both movies focus in with utter clarity and logic just how difficult it is to get away with a crime, and how a number of little things can have a way of going wrong and adding up until the entire situation has spun out of control. And, of course, everything hurtles towards a conclusion that is horrible and inevitable. After all, it can't end any other way. I'm reminded of the great Frances McDormand speech from (another Coen Brothers movie) Fargo: "And for what? For a little bit of money."
The Square comes in a pretty straightforward DVD package courtesy of Sony. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, enhanced for anamorphic playback, and looks very solid. This is a dark movie, but not a lot of detail is lost, and there are no visible flaws. The 5.1 audio track offers a clear dialogue presentation and a good amount of unsettling atmosphere in the surrounding channels. It's not reference material, but it a strong and never distracting presentation of the movie, and that's all a film this good requires.
In the bonus department, there are 25 minutes of deleted scenes that are very interesting taken on their own, but would probably have felt out of place if kept in the finished film. "Inside The Square" is a "making of" piece that covers the entire production from start to finish, and it's incredibly involving and informative for a feature that runs under a half hour. There are two additional featurettes, one on "pre-visualization" and one on "scene deconstruction" that breaks down a few key moments in the movie. Also included is a music video from Jessica Chapnik for a song called "Sand" and an impressive short film called "Spider," also directed by Edgerton.
There is a moment near the end of The Square where the main character, Ray, has a moment of clarity and is almost feverishly desperate to atone and make things right. "I did something wrong," he says, "and I'm very, very sorry." It's a testament to how special the movie is that I believe him.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video
* Short Film
* Official Site