“The Square,” from Australian brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton, is a deceptively smart and tense noir thriller that lulls you to sleep as it prepares to knock you out, like a perfectly executed cinematic rope-a-dope.
The movie is centered on a timeless conceit: Two corners of a love triangle – or in this case a love square – see a chance to steal some money, leave town and start their lives anew. Ray is the foreman at a construction site (with the absolute worst safety record in all of Australia) who’s sleeping with the Carla, the pretty younger blonde from across the river, who sees their chance for a new start when she stumbles upon the proceeds of her boyfriend’s latest crime.
For the first 45 minutes, “The Square” keeps you just barely invested -- witty sight gag here, a close call there, but nothing truly gripping. Then, just as you’ve resigned yourself to another cookie-cutter star-crossed getaway, the Edgerton’s go for broke.
Typically in these films, maybe six players jockey for position: the desperate couple, the people they’re cheating on, the local cop who's not quite as dumb as he seems and the squirrely dirtbag who somehow stumbles on the couple’s plan and tries to blackmail them.
The Edgertons' effort stands out because they get more than a dozen pawns in the mix. More importantly, they don’t force their characters to do the stupid things that so many other thrillers need. Instead, every venal, stupid, selfish and/or violent thing each character does is in tune with their arc – except, of course, for the inexplicable refusal to, in the words of Eddie Murphy, GET OUT!
Director Nash and his brother Joel, the film’s co-writer and co-star, have drawn comparisons to the Coen Brothers. You may be tempted to dismiss the comparison as lazy: “Oh, they’re brothers and they made an adulterous crime drama – they’re just like Joel and Ethan!” But the fact is, “The Square” would slide nicely into the Coens' filmography, bearing not just their masterful control of tone and character development, but also their dark visual wit and macabre sensibility.
For just a taste of the Edgertons' talents, check out “Spider” (warning: mildly graphic violence), directed, edited and co-written by Nash Edgerton. It’s the grimmest nine-minute joke you’ll ever see, a masterfully crafted piece of short fiction that drives home mom’s most dire lesson: It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. With any luck it will be included on the DVD.
"The Square" goes into limited release on April 9, adding more cities over the coming weeks