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Home / Articles / Entertainment / Screen /  One-two punch
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Thursday, May 6,2010

One-two punch

By Michael Phillips

A nerve-racking noir from Australia, The Square is accompanied by a nine-minute curtain-raiser, a short film called “Spider,” from the same director, Nash Edgerton. The less you know about “Spider” the better. I’ll say this much: There may be no more effective sucker-punch demonstration in the perils of taking a joke too far.

It’s fabulously sick.

The Square, less so: Its mood is stern, and its suspense a different, crafty sort of accomplishment. The story follows a pattern of adultery and lovers’ plans for escape that go quite, quite badly, along the lines of Blood Simple but with fewer visual flourishes and a subtler brand of irony. The lovers, both married though not to each other, are Raymond (David Roberts), whose construction project gives the film its title, and Carla (Claire van der Boom), a hairstylist whose husband is a lowlevel criminal. Early in the picture, we see this man with the mullet stash a duffel bag full of ill-gotten cash into a crawlspace above the laundry room. We also see Carla watching and wondering how that money might best be used.

The screws tighten. The lovers hire an arsonist to dispose of Carla’s house, but not before they clear out the money. The arson job goes quite, quite badly, and from there, The Square becomes a study in Roberts’ increasingly distraught face, as he struggles to maintain a facade of normalcy while guilt, evasion and bodies pile up around him. There are some wonderful touches. The two key couples in The Square live across a river from each other. We’re told the river plays host to the occasional shark. (Information like that rarely goes unexploited in a thriller.) A blackmailer enters the narrative, identity unknown both to Ray and to the audience, at least for a nice long while.

If The Square has limitations, it’s because the mainspring of the plot keeps the characters interesting without allowing for much in the way of psychology or surprise. Van der Boom’s performance is probably the best of the batch, though her role is on the thin side. The stringalong, bad-to-worse nature of The Square affords a distinct, if sour, sort of satisfaction. Yet its construction is a thing of considerable soundness.

Taken together, The Square and “Spider” are a fine pair of calling cards. Hollywood can always use talent like Nash Edgerton and his brother, Joel, who co-wrote the script with Matthew Dabner and who plays Billy, the arsonist whose lax sense of quality control allows each subsequent twist a chance to spin forward, like a top spun by Fate.

—MCT, Tribune Newspapers

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