"One man points his dick in the wrong direction, and here we are..."
A hundred different movies can make for something like a dozen common lessons: True love prevails. Underdogs triumph. What goes around, comes around. All that jazz. For some, it's a bit more fascinating when those best laid plans go supremely awry, when the pursuit of happiness is a profoundly futile endeavor. When I tell you that The Square is about two lovers who try to take the money and run, you might think that you've seen it all before.
But you haven't. Not quite like this. Whichever Murphy they named that law after? This puppy would do him proud. No one ever really does suspect the quiet ones, so it stands to reason that Raymond (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom) might carry on with their discreet affair for as long as they care to. But just as familiarity has bred contempt in their proper relationships, secret trysts aren't quite cutting it for Carla. He said that, one day, they'll leave and start anew. She's still waiting. And now that her husband (Anthony Hayes) has brought home an especially shady sum of money, she wants to get away with taking it, and Raymond, as far away from their shared suburban malaise as possible.
Naturally, this does not go down according to plan, and with one interrupted "Silent Night" sing-along, things begin to spiral out of control, with Raymond desperate to tidy up an increasing amount of loose ends involving his work, his wife, his lover, a particularly ominous blackmailer, and a mounting body count. And all the while, director Nash Edgerton (of the amusingly nasty short Spider, which gets a quiet nod here) and writers Joel Edgerton (yes, related, and also co-starring) and Matthew Dabner pull the strings with tremendously adept precision and a marvelous mean streak.
As it unfolds, The Square plays like the blackest comedy rather than the bleakest noir, full of the best punchlines that you'll never actually hear, as our poor, unfortunate Raymond only endures further and further punishment in the name of his transgressions and aspirations. The recurring dichotomy of his career in construction and descent into destruction is a nice touch -- every single word of the so-called "Haven Cove Oasis Resort" seems to equally mock Raymond and Carla's rut -- and what's key is that Roberts pulls off the everyman-under-pressure with heavy shoulders and a meek face quietly carved by countless struggles, though none as taxing as this.
The rest of the ensemble similarly matches him in their own scenes and their own ways, suggesting moral flexibility and downright desperation while never less than grounded in the reality of their consequences. Brad Shield's lensing casts the dilemmas of its subjects in an unflinching and (again) almost mockingly plain light, while Nash and co-editor Luke Doolan (also of Spider) opt for a relative discretion that serves the ever-mounting tension well, all the way to its gut-punch climax.
So while I could compare this to A Simple Plan or Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, I almost fear that I'd be selling it short in comparison. No, when something this tight and this taut and this relentlessly compelling arrives, it deserves attention all its own. As such, I look forward to the day that I can refer to something as 'post-Edgerton,' and I'll feel downright spoiled the day that I can call something reminiscent of The Square.