The Square

English Title: The Square

Country of Origin: Australia

Director: Nash Edgerton

Producer(s): Louise Smith

Screenplay: Matthew Dabner, Joel Edgerton

Cinematographer: Brad Shield

Editor: Luke Doolan, Nash Edgerton

Runtime: 105 minutes

Genre: Crime/Melodrama

Language: English

Starring/Cast: Joel Edgerton, Anthony Hayes, Bill Hunter, David Roberts, Claire van der Boom

Year: 2009

Volume: Australasian

: Ray, the site manager of a new housing development (The Square of the title) fixes a large contract in order to receive a kickback from concreter Barney, to pay for a new life with his mistress Carla. Carla, meanwhile, has discovered a bag full of money – the proceeds of an unspecified crime – that her partner Greg has hidden in the roof of their house. The windfall emboldens Carla to press Ray to leave his wife.  Ray hires arsonist Billy to set fire to Greg and Carla’s house so that Greg will think the money has been destroyed, but unbeknown to the plotters, Greg’s mother is asleep in the house and is killed in the blaze. After the fire, Ray receives a card from a blackmailer. He suspects Leonard, a mechanic who has been working on The Square, after Leonard witnesses one of Ray and Carla’s assignations. Ray accidentally kills Leonard, and hides his body under an area of The Square which is about to be concreted, but torrential rain and a freak workplace accident delay the cover-up. Ray continues to receive cards from the blackmailer. He breaks in to Billy and Lily’s flat, now believing Lily is the culprit, and confronts her. Ray’s foreman Jake suspects that Ray has caused some unexplained damage to the site and secretly inspects the area where Leonard is buried. But Ray has followed Jake to the site, and realizes that the scale of his deception is about to be uncovered. After a scuffle, Jake drives off at high speed.  Ray chases him, calling out for a chance to explain what has happened. Ray swerves to avoid a tree and accidentally knocks Jake’s car off the road. Ray saves Jake’s baby from the wreck, but Jake dies in hospital. Ray goes to meet the blackmailer, but is intercepted by his boss, Gil, who has been tipped off about the arrangements. Together with the local police sergeant, they apprehend the blackmailer, who turns out to be the concreting contractor Barney who had earlier paid Ray the kickback. Ray hurries to meet Carla, only to find that Billy is holding her at gunpoint. Billy confronts Ray with one of the blackmailer’s cards that Ray had dropped when he accosted Lily; Billy believes that the arson has been discovered.  Ray and Carla try to explain about the kickback, and tell Billy about Greg’s bag of money. Greg unexpectedly arrives, and a brief shootout ensues. Billy shoots Greg, but is wounded himself. Ray tries to wrestle the gun from Billy but, in the struggle, the gun goes off, fatally wounding Carla. Billy escapes with the money. Ray stumbles out to the street in a daze as police sirens approach.

The Square is the feature film debut of director Nash Edgerton, well-known in Australian film circles not only for his award-winning music videos and short films Deadline (first prize winner at Tropfest in 1997) and Spider but also for his work as an actor, editor, producer, writer and stuntman on countless Australian films and television programmes.  The film was co-written by Edgerton’s regular partner and brother Joel, who also plays the arsonist Billy. Joel is familiar to Australian and international audiences for his television work in The Secret Life of Us as well as numerous film roles.
The Square is reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s film blanc A Simple Plan, not only in the terrible consequences that flow from the chance discovery of a bag full of cash, and the tragedies that befall characters who make questionable moral choices, but also in the blank-visaged, vapid intensity of the lead characters Ray (The Square) and Hank (A Simple Plan). For both of these characters, survival is ultimately a greater punishment than the terminal fate so many of those around them suffer as a consequence of their actions.  David Roberts’ Ray is uncharismatic and difficult for viewers to connect with: for someone engaged in an affair with a much younger woman he is oddly passionless, but given the various deceptions he is practising it is perhaps fitting that his facial expressions and manner give little away. Like the shark-infested river that separates Ray and Carla’s houses, on the surface Ray is equable and unremarkable, but below the surface deadly forces lurk. The theme of hidden dangers is literalized in the unfortunate demise of Carla’s dog that we first encounter in the opening scene locked in Carla’s car, watching her tryst with Ray in his car. The dog regularly swims across the river to be with Ray’s dog until one day he disappears half-way across, a victim of the unseen shark.
This contemporary immorality play deploys familiar cinematic energies – greed, infidelity, serendipity – to great effect in its cautionary tale of respectable people brought to ruin by ethical transgressions and the deadly, seductive power of large sums of money. Both the deliberate and the fortuitous interventions in the circulation of capital in the film have disastrous consequences for the main protagonists and all those around them: Ray’s request for a kickback kicks off the blackmail plot, while Carla’s chance discovery of Greg’s bag of loot indirectly causes the chain of accidental deaths culminating in her own farcical demise.  As in A Simple Plan, the ill-gotten gains magnify Ray and Carla’s duplicity; the money and all it promises takes control of them and ultimately destroys their lives.
Claire van der Boom in her first feature film role makes Carla immensely likeable, despite her complicity in the series of criminal acts that punctuate the film. On one level, her attraction to Ray is hard to comprehend, and we are given little insight into the origins of their affair, but her desire to escape her relationship with violent bully Greg is ultimately the only explanation we need for her actions. Anthony Hayes as Greg demonstrates once again a remarkable screen presence; his air of quiet menace and imminent potential for savage violence is reminiscent of Oliver Reed at his most threatening.  

Author of this review: Ben Goldsmith