Temptation is always a good subject for a movie plot, especially when the aim is to create a modern film noir, a downward spiral where men and women do the wrong things for the wrong reasons.
“The Square” is a dark, rather dour, but nicely satisfying Australian variation on the formula. This movie takes a set of characters and — rather than have them do stupid things to make the plot work — allows their baser impulses to take over in disastrous ways.
At the center of the story is Ray (David Roberts), a lean, middle-age contractor who wears a perpetual look of quiet desperation. Ray’s working a little under-the-table graft to get his new project built, but that isn’t the main source of his current angst.
He’s got himself tangled in an extramarital affair with Carla (Claire van der Boom), a younger woman who lives across the river, in the less upscale part of town.
She’s found a knapsack full of cash that her mullet-headed husband (Anthony Hayes) unwisely keeps in the attic. A very full knapsack.
Now if only you could hire an arsonist (Joel Edgerton) to torch the house after said cash has been safely removed from said attic, you could convince mullet-head that the money had burned up, and prepare the way for the two illicit lovebirds to get away quietly with said knapsack.
Someday someone will make a film noir in which such a devious plan actually works out perfectly, and the cheating lovers get away scot-free. But not this one.
“The Square” is directed by Nash Edgerton and co-written by his brother Joel, a familiar actor from Aussie cinema. They are heading down a path that many have taken before, yet they manage to freshen up the formula with lived-in locations and a certain psychological consistency from the people onscreen.
That’s the appeal of this kind of picture: the grim satisfaction of watching characters act out their destinies, right down to the final serving of just desserts.
Give the Edgertons credit for playing it straight; there are stray moments of lightness (there’s even a grim sort of gallows humor about the way everything works out), but mostly “The Square” drops you into a world where people are unequivocally messing up their lives. No exit is indicated.
To set the mood, “The Square” is being screened with a short film directed by Nash Edgerton, “Spider,” which contains at least two popcorn-dropping jolts. You have been warned.