Film Review: Australian thriller 'The Square' nails noir

Claire van der Boom  and David Roberts  star in the Aussie crime film 'The Square.'

Daniel Guerra

Claire van der Boom and David Roberts star in the Aussie crime film "The Square."

The international film market apparently is bullish on murder. Six weeks ago, Sweden's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" opened in Memphis. Last week, it was followed by an Argentine import, "The Secret in Their Eyes." Both these crime films still are at the Malco Ridgeway Four, where today they are joined by "The Square" from Australia.

"The Square" centers on an adulterous couple whose scheming leads to arson, blackmail and murder. Escaping the monotony of a loveless marriage, Raymond becomes entangled ...

Rating: R for violence and language

Length: 114 minutes

Released: March 19, 2010 Limited

Cast: David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Joel Edgerton, Anthony Hayes, Lisa Bailey

Director: Nash Edgerton

Writer: Joel Edgerton, Matthew Dabner

More info and showtimes »

"The Square" is the best of the bunch, by far. "Girl" and "Secret" could be described as character dramas with mystery genre trimmings; they occasionally become ponderous, as their social-political agendas distract from the storytelling. "The Square," however, is the real deal -- a tough, twisty, uncompromising tale of murder, adultery and purloined loot that stays true to author James Ellroy's succinct summation of the primary theme of film noir: "We're all doomed." (Except Ellroy used an Anglo-Saxon vulgarism instead of "doomed.")

Created by a pair of New South Wales brothers, debuting feature director Nash Edgerton and writer Joel Edgerton (Joel also has a key supporting role in the film), "The Square" is the story of a married construction foreman (David Roberts) who is carrying on an affair with a younger neighbor (Claire van der Boom) whose husband is a coarse, petty criminal (Anthony Hayes).

When the woman discovers her husband has hidden a satchel of cash in a crawlspace, her dreams of running away with her lover take a dark, dangerous turn. Needless to say, the Edgertons and co-writer Matthew Dabner throw numerous complications in the couple's way, but the twists are believable.

The film is brilliantly constructed, not just in the ironies of its story, but also in the director's establishment of place and geography, which enables us to follow the action as if we were familiar with the neighborhood. (The novelty of the suburban Sydney setting is a plus.) The only drawback is a dull, pretentiously moody score that makes the film seem more humorless than it is.

"The Square" is more or less bookended by quotes that could be classic evocations of the noir ethos. Early in the film, a character asks, flirtatiously: "You tryin' to get me into trouble?" The filmmakers would answer: Of course. And near the end of the movie, another character confesses: "I did a wrong thing and I'm sorry." That may work in a confessional or at a press conference, but this is film noir. This time, the filmmakers would answer: Too late.

The feature is preceded by a clever short film by Nash Edgerton, "Spider."

-- John Beifuss: 529-2394

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