While watching Nash Edgerton’s first feature film, The Square, I had the distinct impression that this was the work of a filmmaker who isn’t going away any time soon. The film, a noir thriller with the feel of an early Coen Brothers film, is wonderfully paced and effectively gripping with characters that are as interesting as they are common and everyday. The film creates a world that exists just a thin layer beneath normal life, one that is gritty in the same way the worlds of Blood Simple or Fargo are. It is a place where petty wrong strives toward Hollywood villainy.
The Square’s story is simple enough. It is about a middle-aged construction manager, Raymond (David Roberts) who is cheating on his wife with the attractive young Carla (Clair van der Boom), the spouse of a neighbor – a blue color thick-neck named Smithy (Anthony Hayes). Carla discovers a bag of cash Smithy has hidden away in her home’s attic, and she and Raymond decide to steal the cash as a means to move away and set up a new life together. They pay arsonist-for-hire Billy (Joel Edgerton) to burn down Carla and Smithy’s house in order to cover up their theft. Soon after Raymond, who is also embezzling company funds, begins receiving threatening letters from someone trying to blackmail him. He is not sure which crime the blackmailer is threatening him with, but Raymond tries to cover his tracks nonetheless. In short, and without giving too much away, each time Raymond tries to fix his situation he only digs the hole deeper. It is an excruciating, but thrilling thing to watch.
Perhaps the readiness to compare so much of this film to the Coen Brothers’ work is a shortcoming. While watching it, it doesn’t matter. The Square is interested in many Coen-esque themes: the way our imaginations create movie lives for ourselves; the way our petty desires magnify into dark evils; the way you almost feel bad for these people because they seem too ill-equipped to handle their fate, yet you leave the theater wondering if you are equally inept.
I only heard of Edgerton a few weeks ago when his short film Spider began circulating in anticipation of the The Square release. Edgerton, 37, has made around eight shorts but has worked steadily as a stunt man since the early 1990s. In a nice promotional move, Spider is screening before engagements of The Square, and the decision to do so is a fabulous one. Spider is a fast, hair-raising, and hilarious quick scream. More importantly, it unsettles you and introduces you quickly to Edgerton’s style, which threatens a jumping surprise hidden after every shot cut. The short film prepares you for The Square, but it also puts you on the edge of your seat, waiting for whatever Edgerton has for us next.
David Roberts as Raymond in The Square.