Sony // 2008 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // August 30th, 2010
Some things can't be buried.
You can gussy a thriller up with twists and surprising endings, brutal violence and hot sex, but that's so often window dressing to cover up for a shoddy story. When you have the advantage of a solid plot, though, that's all you really need to make an effective film. The noir-tinged Australian entry, The Square, handles itself very well using the simple formula of a strong script, good characters, and a no-frills, utilitarian style.
Ray (David Roberts, The Matrix Reloaded) and Carla (Claire van der Boom, Reflections) are madly in love. The trouble is that they're both married to other people. She wants him to run away with her, and he wants to, but he continues to stall on financial grounds. One night, though, Carla gets home to find her husband scrambling in the utility room next to a bag full of bloody clothes and cash. He doesn't notice her, and she sees her opportunity. Together with Ray, they plan to take the money and burn the house down, leaving them free to be together. The arson doesn't go as planned, however, and when somebody ends up dead, their plan for happiness takes a dire turn.
Ray and Carla are two very ordinary people thrown into an extraordinary situation only partially of their own devising. Their plan is as straightforward as it gets, and actually seems like a plausible and relatively harmless solution to their problem. Greg (Anthony Hayes, Rabbit-Proof Fence), Carla's husband, is a pretty big jerk, so stealing money that he acquired in a clearly nefarious fashion really doesn't seem so bad and, while a new house will cost Greg a lot of money that he no longer has, Carla won't be around for that anyway. Maybe it's mean, but nobody gets seriously hurt. Until someone does, that is, which is natural for a crime thriller. Here, their loves spiral out of control, if they were ever in control in the first place, and trouble with jealousy, paranoia, and violence begins to creep in.
In The Square, director Nash Edgerton doesn't try to play with audience expectations about a thriller. It is, in fact, one of the least twisty genre entries I can think of. The uncomplicated storytelling doesn't make the action predictable, though; it is a well-crafted piece of plotting that allows viewers to care about a couple whose fate is a forgone conclusion. This sort of predetermination is typical of film noir (a genre tag I do not throw around lightly), and the film really captures the spirit of the genre without the stylistic pretensions that so often hinder modern attempts. None of the surface elements of the genre are here. There is no femme fatale, no hardboiled cop, no fancy lighting or camera tricks. This is noir in concept, not look, which is so much more important. Ray and Carla want to leave their old lives, but with every step they take toward their goal, something pulls them back. They don't commit these crimes for the money so much as they see the money as a means to escape. Driven to desperation by their love, they do things they never could have conceived of and, once they start, they can't turn back so their lives spiral completely out of control.
Edgerton displays an impressive amount of skill in this debut feature. His cold, even-handed style is a pleasure to watch; it is nicely paced and very well edited. He delivers the thrills at good intervals, always giving us time to digest the action before he loads us down with another helping of nastiness. The Square is near flawless in its execution.
Fantastic as The Square is, I'm somewhat disappointed in Sony's Blu-ray release of the film. It doesn't look bad, exactly, but for a new film in a Hi-Def format, it really doesn't pop off the screen like it should. To its credit, it has a crisp, clean image with nice color and solid black levels, but it's no better than a good standard definition transfer. The film is more concerned about plot than style, so it's not a deal breaker, but Sony can do better. The sound is better, much closer to what I expect from Blu-ray. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is quite strong, if not terribly active. The creepy ambient sound and equally creepy score by François Tétaz (Wolf Creek) sound very full coming from the rear channels. The dialog is perfectly clear, as well, but even if great sound isn't necessary for a film like this, the whole mix isn't terribly dynamic.
Outside of BD-Live functionality, of which nothing pertains to this film, the extras on the Blu-ray disc match the DVD, and they're good across the board. Twenty-five minutes of deleted scenes give a bit more background, but there's nothing essential here and it's clear why the scenes were pulled. A half-hour making-of featurette is one of the more detailed of the kind that I've seen, starting with preproduction (including the tests of the film stock) all the way to the festival premiere. It's astounding how much they were able to stuff into such a short piece, but there is a ton of interest in here. Moving on, we have two short pieces, a sequence detailing the pre-visualization of the action scenes, and a deconstruction of the scene from the initial shot, through the processes, to the final image. Good stuff. A short film from Edgerton called Spider proves the skills presented in The Square are no fluke. Finally, a music video from Jessica Chapnik finishes us off. This is a very strong slate of supplements, all of which are well worth watching.
As a former stuntman making his first feature, Nash Edgerton deserves a whole lot of credit. He shows himself to be an excellent hand with performances, pacing, and action. It contrasts sharply with Rules, the other film I reviewed that a stuntman directed. The Square is more than an impressive debut; anybody of any experience level would be proud of such a feature. This is neo-noir at its very best.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Film
* Music Video