From greedy optimism to ignominious death—the trajectory of film noir rarely changes, only the particulars that dot that downward path. So it is with The Square, director Nash Edgerton’s tale of sought-after escape and freedom stymied by unforeseen quirks of circumstance. In a cheery Australian suburb, married Ray (David Roberts) runs a construction business currently working on a resort, his run-of-the-mill existence complicated by the affair he’s carrying on under highway overpasses and in hotel rooms with his married neighbor-across-the-pond, Carla (Claire van der Boom). When Carla spies her criminal spouse Greg (Anthony Hayes) hiding a bag full of cash, the opportunity to steal the money and finally abscond with Ray seems too good to pass up.
Yet as suggested by probing, harsh daylight-drenched camerawork prone to reveal hidden objects at the end of unsettling pans or zooms, pitfalls lay ahead for the couple. They do, albeit not from predictable sources, as Joel Edgerton and Matthew Dabner’s script creates a clusterfuck scenario for Ray and Carla—involving hiring an arsonist named Billy (Joel Edgerton) to burn Carla’s house down to cover up their robbery, a suspicious friend of Greg’s who’s sweet on Carla, and a shady contractor from whom Ray is receiving kickbacks—that keeps the action taut and fleet.
Its title referring to a spot of Ray’s under-development land but also, more subtly, the personal boundaries Ray and Carla both deliberately step over, The Square has a toughness, gallows wit, and sense of impending tragedy amplified by its grainy, gliding aesthetics and an agitated performance by Roberts, his stout frame belying his increasing powerlessness over events. Edgerton slips slightly by thrusting his protagonists spiraling toward catastrophe a tad too early, his refusal to even humor any notions of hope somewhat sabotaging his story’s suspense. And given his sharp attention to detail, those few finer plot points which are casually glossed over wind up calling undue attention to themselves (for example, why don’t any of Ray’s employees notice that he’s filled in a giant hole during the rainy dead of night?)
Still, there’s workmanlike craft to the proceedings’ portrait of Ray and Carla’s foolhardy quest to break their self-imposed chains. A saga of fate’s cruel hand toward those endeavoring to be more than they are, this neo-noir’s narrative gears turn with predestined precision, the miserable outcome of the central couple’s scheme epitomized by the sight of a dog drowning while trying to reach its beloved, and so set in stone that, from film’s outset, one can see the doom etched in the lines of Roberts’s harried face.