'The Square': When Bad Intentions Go Bad

Claire van der Boom

hide captionFemme Fatale: Claire van der Boom stars as Carla, the troubled wife of a shady businessman. Trying to escape her loveless marriage, she manipulates her lover into stealing from her husband so they can plan a getaway.

Daniel Guerra

The Square

  • Director: Nash Edgerton
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 105 minutes
Rated R for violence and language

With: David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Joel Edgerton, Anthony Hayes

The signature sequence in Joel and Ethan Coen's 1985 debut Blood Simple begins with an ordinary man discovering, in excruciatingly protracted detail, just what it takes to clean up a murder scene. There's the weight of the body, which he drags, boots and all, through an office, across the length of a bar, and onto the vinyl in the back seat of his car. There are the loose ends — the murder weapon that skidded under a desk, a sullied towel and windbreaker to toss into the incinerator. But most of all, there's the blood; thick pools of it, soaking into the hardwood, staining circles around the sink, and creating new messes to supplant the old ones, like a scene out of The Cat in the Hat. And that's not even the end of it.

With the smoothly orchestrated Australian thriller The Square, another pair of filmmaking brothers, Nash and Joel Edgerton, haven't exactly remade Blood Simple, but they put a fresh spin on the classic Coen premise of amateurs in over their heads. When one criminal scheme goes tragically awry — in this case, an arson and robbery plot concocted by adulterous lovers — the players are forced into dilemmas that aren't just moral but practical, because committing heinous acts to cover up petty ones doesn't come naturally to them. Arson, blackmail, embezzlement, murder: These things are better left to the professionals.

Playing neatly off class tensions in a small river town outside Sydney, The Square follows the torrid, star-crossed affair between Ray (David Roberts), an older white-collar construction head, and femme fatale Carla (Claire van der Boom), a hairdresser married to a low-level gangster. The two have long-deferred plans to run off together, but while Ray drags his feet, Carla hatches a scheme to give them a bit of a nest egg. Having spied her husband tucking a bag full of cash above the laundry-room ceiling, Carla brings Ray along on a simple plan to steal the money, hire a small-time hood (played by Joel Edgerton) to set the house ablaze, and make it look like the money was lost in the fire.

David Roberts

hide captionDriven To Extremes: David Roberts plays Raymond Yale, the mild-mannered construction supervisor who falls for another man's wife and ends up desperate and in trouble.

Matthew Nettheim

Needless to say, the plan goes off with hitches aplenty, but the Edgertons don't stop piling on the complications. On the sly, Ray has another criminal plot in motion, awarding a construction contract for an upscale resort project in exchange for kickbacks roughly equal to the amount nestled in Carla's house. The separate crimes dovetail beautifully in the script, to the point where Ray doesn't always know which people are hunting him down for which robbery. It also balances the equation between white-collar thievery, executed with a wink and a handshake, and the blue-collar variety, which leaves more dirt under the fingernails.

The Square leaves a few questions dangling — the origin of Carla's husband's ill-gotten gains, for one — but that's perfectly in keeping with a film about messes that can't be scrubbed clean. The Edgertons reshuffle a lot of well-worn genre elements; the notion of paying homage to the Coens threatens to propel the film into a swirling vortex of reference points. But they seize on the primal forces of passion and hubris that lead regular people to cross the threshold into criminality, never to return.

(The release print of The Square comes with Nash Edgerton's nasty little 2003 short film Spider attached; it's a fine primer for the dark mayhem to come.)

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