Taut, dirty doings Down Under

Posted: April 23, 2010

Here's Edward G. Robinson from The Woman in the Window: "There are only three ways to deal with a blackmailer. You can pay him and pay him and pay him until you're penniless. Or you can call the police yourself and let your secret be known to the world. Or you can kill him."

At a certain point in the taut Down Under thriller The Square, Ray Yale (David Roberts), a husband guilty of considerably more than cheating on his wife, faces the dilemma of what to do with a blackmailer. And his decision has profound consequences.

A neo-noir that gets trickier and trickier as Ray digs himself deeper into a hole - he's a construction contractor, and that hole is literal as well as metaphoric - The Square has a quietly nasty side to it. It's as if filmmaking brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton (Joel cowrote, produced and costars, Nash directed) sat down and said, "Let's watch these suckers wreck their lives, and the lives of everyone around them."

And said it with glee.

As The Square begins, Ray, in his 40s and in a tired and tense marriage, can be found in a heated clinch with Carla (Claire van der Boom), a younger woman married to a small-time thief, Greg (Anthony Hayes). Or maybe Greg's not so small-time: When she returns home from one of her illicit trysts, Carla discovers a satchel of money her husband has hidden away. There's enough there to start a new life. A life with Ray.

The adulterous duo decide to take off with the cash, but not before matters get complicated. As the old saw goes, he who hesitates is lost, and Ray hesitates. By the time he resolves to leave his wife and run off with Carla, Greg has discovered the money is missing. He suspects his thuggish cohorts first (one of whom is played by Joel Edgerton), but there's plenty of suspicion to go around.

Neatly shot and smartly edited, The Square isn't Double Indemnity - van der Boom is no Barbara Stanwyck, and Roberts no Fred MacMurray. There isn't any crackling, charismatic star power at play. But in a way, the two actors' everyman and everywoman vibe makes the story more compelling and convincing, not less. A few bad moves, a moral lapse here and there, and maybe we're all capable of such deeply stupid and destructive acts.

And if we're not, there's still something creepily satisfying about watching other people - they could be our neighbors! - behaving in such seriously shabby, reckless ways.

Preceding The Square, which was shot in the suburbs of Sydney and is set in the balmy summer weeks around Christmastime, is Nash Edgerton's 2007 short, Spider. It's a devilishly twisted affair, about a guy trying to reconcile with his girlfriend while they drive around town.

Expect a jolt or two.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

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