Movie Review: The Square (2010)

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David Roberts in The Square
Photo: Apparition

Nash Edgerton’s feature directorial debut The Square will hit theaters with his 2007 short film “Spider” playing in front of it, and a more apt primer I could not imagine. “Spider” sets expectations exactly where they should be for a film filled with cause and effect madness so extreme it begins to work. How well it works depends on how much you’re willing to give in to the crazy and predictable nature of it all, but the more you do the more you’ll enjoy what you see.

David Roberts stars as Ray, a construction foreman who’s having an affair with Carla (Claire van der Boom), a young beautician who presents Ray with a way the two can escape from their unhappy marriages with some money in hand. Carla’s husband (Anthony Hayes), on top of being a tow truck driver is also a small-time crook and his latest score is stowed in their attic. When Carla and Ray hook up with an arsonist (Joel Edgerton) in a plot to steal the money, while making it look like it burned in the fire, things head downhill, bodies pile up and everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Then again, when you do bad things it shouldn’t be all that surprising when bad things come to you.

Joel Edgerton co-wrote the script with first time screenwriter Matthew Dabner and they appear to have drummed up every action scenario known to cinema and tossed it into one movie and Joel’s brother Nash embraced that madness and has directed a technically proficient film that insists on going haywire. Having watched the eight short films Nash has directed, starting with Loaded in 1996, I would say this is something of a cleansing of the palette. If anything, The Square is the culmination of his work to this point, and with plenty of talent shown this is a great place to begin a feature directorial career.

The one thing I get from Nash’s work is that his embracing of the predictable and the cliche is a conscious effort. Things in life are predictable and cliched, but every now and again a surprise throws things for a loop and there are a couple of those tossed in here as well. Of course, throwing everything plus the kitchen sink into an hour and 45 minute film is a bit overdoing it, but it also allows Nash and his cast to have fun inside a world where anything can happen and most likely will. By the time The Square comes to an end you have either bought into the insanity or you’ll be frustrated and waiting for the credits to roll.

Along with his brother, whose career is on the rise as he’ll be seen later this year in the Sundance hit Animal Kingdom and next year in the remake of The Thing, Nash also cast his frequent short film collaborator Kieran Darcy-Smith who reminds me a lot of Guy Pearce. Roberts is the most recognizable face as many will remember him from his small role in the Matrix sequels. He’s good here, though his relationship with Carla is a bit of a stretch as it appears several years separate the two and their personalities just don’t seem to match up.

For the most part I feel an urge to champion The Square simply because of the names involved even though the film itself is going to send audiences home with polarized opinions and it didn’t floor me either. However, Edgerton’s shorts are a blast and seeing Brendan Donoghue as Leonard Long reminds me of his short performance in my favorite of the live-action Oscar-nominated shorts, Miracle Fish.

Looking The Square over and realizing most of Nash Edgerton’s work has been as a Hollywood stuntman on the likes of the Matrix films, Mission: Impossible II and the upcoming Tom Cruise feature Knight and Day, I can’t help but wonder if this is a stuntman trying to direct or a director making ends meet as a stuntman while waiting for his big break. I don’t think The Square is going to be his breakout feature, but it may be his first step to bigger and better things and I am anxious to see where he takes things from here.

GRADE: B-