Monday, April 05, 2010

Australian Noir: The Square

Even though Ray Yale is a contractor, he is not a bad guy. Yes, he has been unfaithful, but usually that is a relatively forgivable sin in a film noir setting. Still, he could definitely be called the anti-hero of Nash Edgerton’s The Square (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

For the first time in his life, Yale has taken a kick-back. That is because he would like to run away with his mistress Carla. Walking out on his self-absorbed wife is one thing, but for Carla, leaving her abusive husband, Greg “Smithy” Smith, entails much more risk. However, when she spies her loving hubby stashing a duffle bag full of cash in the attic, she sees an opportunity. Of course, the temperamentally conservative Yale is reluctant to do anything rash, but he eventually agrees to her demands. However, he argues they cannot rouse Smithy’s suspicions. If they are going to grab the cash, they should hire a professional arsonist to burn the entire house down. With a well thought out plan like that, what could go wrong?

Needless to say, everything goes dreadfully haywire. Directed by Nash and co-written by brother Joel, who also plays Billy, the seedy arsonist, the Edgertons are obviously being positioned as heirs to the old school Coen Brothers’s indie noir tradition. It definitely has the right attention to detail, but the sense of fun is missing.

In a strange way, David Roberts might actually be too good as the hapless Yale. He makes the square-jawed middle-aged contractor a compelling and reasonably likeable everyman, regardless of his faults. Unlike classic film noirs, it is hard to revel in the devilishness of each new tribulation to rain down on him. The production design of Square also has a pervasive tackiness, totally appropriate for a noir partly set among the lower end of Sydney’s suburbs, but it is somewhat depressing to look at over time.

Still, Square boasts a totally convincing, average-looking cast, with a glammed down Claire van der Boom nicely straddling the roles of frightened victim and femme fatale as Carla Smith. Though only appearing briefly, veteran Australian character actor Bill Hunter (recognizable from Gallipoli, Strictly Ballroom, and Muriel’s Wedding) takes quite a memorable turn as well, as Yale’s hardnosed developer-client.

The Edgertons definitely have a dark sensibility, which can also be seen in Spider, a short film directed, co-written, and co-edited by brother Nash that will precede Square as an added bonus when it opens in New York. In the short, a young woman driving through an equally mundane suburban environment loses patience with her slacker boyfriend (also played by the director), as they lurch toward the pitch black punch-line.

Brutally naturalistic, Square is definitely a well executed film. Edgerton nicely keeps the audience off-balance. Like the original Lethal Weapon and Die Hard films, Sydney’s sunny Christmas festivities also creates a disorienting counterpoint to the grungy criminal business at hand. Frankly, Square has all the elements, except one: fun. Gritty to the point of grimness, The Square opens at New York’s Landmark Sunshine this Friday (4/9).