It’s almost impossible not to compare The Square with No Country For Old Men. The themes are very much the same. The talent behind this Australian movie even includes a couple of brothers, but their name doesn’t happen to be Cohen; however, one of these brothers is also named Joel. One of the original writers on the film is Joel Edgerton. The idea passed through a couple of other folks along the way to director Nash Edgerton who saw more potential in the film. So, a modest budget and a collection of relatively unknown actors combined to create a movie that does not easily fall into any one category, another trait these brothers share with the more famous pair.
Carla (van der Boom) is having a rather intense affair with Ray (Roberts). They both want out of their own marriages for different reasons but lack the proper funds to make their respective clean breaks. Carla is married to Smithy (Hayes) a small-time crook with a domestic violent streak. Ray is married to Martha (Bell) who he simply doesn’t have much passion for. He feels his life has settled into an emotionless rut. Ray is a foreman for a contract business and has been taking kickbacks from his subcontractors in a bid to stash away enough money to run away with Carla. It’s a slow business, and Carla is getting impatient, starting to wonder if he really wants to be with her. It all appears hopeless, that is until Carla returns home from a rendezvous with Ray to find Smithy stashing a large bag of cash into their attic crawlspace. It’s a ton of money, more than enough to finance her escape with Ray. She tries to convince Ray that they should steal the cash and go. Ray is concerned that such a big score for a normally two-bit crook means others are involved. He suspects they won’t take very kindly to having their money taken, and the two lovers would have to live in constant fear of being discovered. So they come up with a plan to steal the money and hire someone to torch the house, making Smithy and his pals think the money was consumed in the fire. Ray’s a bit gun-shy about the idea, but Carla can be quite persuasive.
Of course, a ton of things begin to go wrong, from the arson job itself to the threat of blackmail when the simple grab-and-burn plan ends in murder. No matter what Ray does to try to “fix” the problems, he blunders into even more trouble. It’s a real “out of the frying pan and into the fire” scenario. The film follows one bad-luck event after another, finally ending in a complicated web of betrayal and tragedy.
I have to say that the film’s slow burn actually sucks you into the characters and their circumstances rather quickly. The cast might be made up of unknown actors, but they do step up to the plate here. Everyone is pretty much perfectly cast, and the performances go a long way to make up for some problems with pacing and story holes. You’re enjoying the movie enough to forgive certain flaws in the movie’s plot.
So, what about those flaws? The biggest problem I had was the almost accidental nature of most of the violence and criminal escalation in the story. You almost feel like you’re watching a black comedy the way some of these murders go down. There’s an “Oops I did it again” nature to everything that fits perfectly to that Shock To The System black comedy mode. But, make no mistake. This is not a black comedy. In fact, there is no levity in this film whatsoever. I’ve seldom watched a movie that was so constantly dark and brooding. There’s absolutely no relief, which makes this a somewhat unique film in itself. Even No Country For Old Men had a few light moments. You just never catch your breath here, which makes these Oops murders a bit awkward.
To go along with all of that moodiness, there is a ton of atmosphere to this movie. Edgerton is a student of the film noir genre, there can be no doubt of that. This might be the closest category I can find to place this movie. It has all of the classic elements. First up, there’s the girl who pushes her lover to do something that would be otherwise outside of his moral center. I say Edgerton must be a student of film noir, not because of the inclusion of these elements. He shows that he understands exactly how they work, and that’s something entirely different. Real chefs can tell you that knowing a recipe doesn’t mean you can create a gourmet meal. Edgerton knows how to use his environment as a character in the film. I can’t tell you how many times I hear a director tell me in an interview or bonus feature how the location is a character in the piece. People say it all the time. Edgerton actually understands it and does it. Take away the clumsy crimes and you just might have the closest thing to film noir I’ve seen made since 1960.
The Square is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average of 33 mbps. I’m afraid to say that high definition can’t really do much for this film. It’s an obvious 16mm print. That does a lot of things to help create atmosphere and a distinctive look to the movie. It does not really translate quite so well on Blu-ray. The picture is grainy. No complaint there. It gives the movie a rather nice look. But there is such a lack of detail here. Colors are slightly off in a way that only 16mm can make them. Again, tons of atmosphere, not sharpness.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 does offer more than the image presentation. Surrounds are subtle but only add to the moody nature of the piece. The dialog is always clear and presented front and center. There isn’t a lot of score bouncing through, but that’s often a good thing. The music disappears effectively into the background, providing an emotional balance but never really calling attention to itself. When there is a rather violent moment, the audio presentation gives you just enough bump to raise the adrenaline ever so slightly without jarring you in your seat.
All of the extras are in Standard Definition
Deleted Scenes: (24:57) There are 14 in all with a play-all option. These are mostly extended or alternate scenes. We do learn how Ray found Billy to burn down the house.
Inside The Square: (29:36) Not your standard guided tour for a behind-the-scenes feature. There’s plenty of informal footage and interview clips. I like when these things don’t feel so much like a promo.
Pre-Visualization: (5:09) This isn’t the computer pre-viz you might be thinking of. It’s just a scouting run through of some scenes with the final scene for comparison.
Scene Deconstruction: (5:16) Look at the various shooting layers for 3 scenes.
Music Video: (3:58) Jessica Chapnik’s Sand.
Spider: (9:04) It’s an interesting short film made by the director. It’s got a rather cool ending. This one is worth a look.
I’d say that The Square is certainly worth a rental. It does have some rewatchability to it. I can see that there are tons of nuances that I’ll likely pick up on in a future repeated viewing. It’s a somewhat depressing film, so this might not be the kind of movie you should reach for when you need some cheering up. The actors try to keep the rather sullen mood in check, but “some things can’t be buried”.