The Square

Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom) is through waiting for her lover, Ray Yale (David Roberts, "Fool's Gold"), to leave his wife and run away with her. When she spies her husband Greg (Anthony Hayes, "Look Both Ways") hiding a satchel of cash, she decides that they should steal it and burn her house down to hide the theft. Ray doesn't want to get involved in criminal activity, even though he is already, having engineered a $40K kickback from cement pourer Barney (Kieran Darcy-Smith, "The Cave") at the honeymoon resort construction job he is managing. But her urgency gets to him and Ray agrees, hiring an arsonist with some of that kickback cash. That job has unforeseen complications, however, as Ray finds himself at the precipice of a steep downward spiral in "The Square."

Laura's Review: B+

This nasty little Australian film noir comes from brothers Joel (writer with Matthew Dabner, character of Billy) and Nash Edgerton (director) who clearly have a gift for tricky plotting and sudden surprises. While not as stylish as the Coen Brothers' debut "Blood Simple," "The Square" nonetheless exhibits great intelligence in setting up a complex structure only to unravel it without telegraphing its third act spoilers. The New South Wales neighborhood of Haven Cove, where blue collar homes and trailer parks exist across the river from more middle class houses, is a vibrant setting that personifies its characters and offers a surface sense of security beneath which hidden dangers lurk. We're introduced to the cheating couple having an assignation in Carla's car, parked alongside the river. Their dogs, a boxer and bison frise, watch from Ray's car parked alongside (keep an eye on these dogs as their relationship foreshadows that of Ray and Carla in one of the film's more inspired ideas). Shortly after the couple's initial plot goes horribly, tragically wrong, Ray begins receiving blackmail notes in Christmas cards. Carla thinks a friend of her husband's, creepy mechanic Leonard Long (Brendan Donoghue), has seen them together and so Ray goes investigating. He discovers Leonard's the guy who stole a generator from his site, but Leonard catches him spying. Ray digs himself into a deeper and deeper hole, just like the one he digs that night, but every effort to get his concrete pad poured over it (one of the two squares alluded to by the title - the other being the ceiling panel Greg moved to hide his money) is upended. 'Talk about dusting off police procedure,' says Sergeant Gary Miles (Paul Caesar) when he comes to talk to Ray about Leonard's disappearance, little knowing that Ray is the guy who has sparked a chain of mayhem in Haven Cove. Meanwhile Ray's construction foreman Jake (Peter Phelps) is getting suspicious about Ray's jittery and unreasonable behavior, Greg's partner in crime Eddie (Damon Herrima, TV's "Justified") focuses his friend's suspicions back on his wife and Billy the arsonist (screenwriter Joel Edgerton, "Kinky Boots," "Smokin' Aces") gets antsy when he finds out Ray's being blackmailed. And the final act of "The Square" is a 1-2-3 knockout punch that few will see coming due to the impeccably tight writing combined with stunning sleight of hand. There are no red herrings here, every twist has been laid out before us, every pitfall signalled sometimes in the most innocent of transactions (one is as laugh out loud startling as it is horrifying while we wait to see how Ray will roll with it). The subtle incorporation of many moments, like the unexplored avenue of Martha Yale (Lucy Bell) quietly reacting as she notes first Carla, then Ray, leave a secluded area at a party, is one of the things that make "The Square" so very satisfying. There is a very large cast here and all the actors are organically of this unique place. Unfortunately, the film's hero, as played by David Roberts, doesn't show a lot of range - he goes from fretful to seriously on edge but there isn't much display of love or lust - the affair simply is. Cinematography by Brad Shield ("Miracle Fish"), while shot in 35mm, looks 16, too grainy and muddy by far, although compositions are fine and there are a couple of 'how did they do that' shots like the long view of Carla and Greg's house on fire as it slowly goes out in a night to day transition or the freaky underground imaginings of Ray's nightmares. Francois Tetaz ("Wolf Creek") score contains echoes of the spirit of Carter Burwell's work for "Blood Simple." "The Square" isn't the most captivating of film titles, but this one really delivers. It will keep you guessing right until the very end. The Edgertons, who have made a number of short films ("Spider," which screened before this film, is a hoot), have given themselves a tough act to follow. Here's hoping that they're up to it.

Robin's Review: B-

This is a departure from writer/director Ruben Ostlund who last brought us “Force Majeure (2014), a family drama about a man, in a time of great danger, who abandons his family to save himself and the cost he bears for that betrayal. “The Square” is anything but dramatic with its mirthful examinations of privilege and poverty as seen through Christian’s eyes. There are several story “threads” running through “The Square” with its examination of the homeless in Sweden – forgotten people; the state of “art” – the titular Square is one and small piles of gravel in an empty room is another – and the ramifications of a bad decision by Christian as he searches for the wallet thief – to humorous ends. There are, as said, a number of story paths to “The Square” and do not try to make sense of some. Christian has a strange one night stand with an American journalist (Elizabeth Moss) who is obsessed with keeping his used condom and lives with a chimpanzee. As I said, do not try to figure it all out. Some of the story lines work better than others but there is one scene that is mesmerizingly striking to watch involving a performance piece with a man-ape (Terry Notary) that needs to be seen to be appreciated. “The Square” has highs and lows, making it sometimes intriguing and sometimes head scratching.