Australian brothers craft a punchy noir debut
Film noir is alive and thriving in Australia. The proof is in The Square, an edgy thriller from the appropriately named Edgerton brothers, director Nash and co-writer/co-star Joel, whose raw, invigorating morality play captures the spirit of noir in all its gritty intensity—then ratchets the whole thing up that one outrageous step further. Twisty, smart, epic in its themes, but absolutely life-sized and credible in its characterizations, this is the kind of fast and furious thrill ride Quentin Tarantino can only dream of making.
The story, conceived by Joel Edgerton (which he co-scripted with Matthew Dabner) begins with classic noir set-up: an adulterous affair, a bag of cash, an insistent dame, and one poor slob in way, way over his head. Or, as one character in the film so succinctly sums it up, “One man points his dick in the wrong direction and here we are!”
Ray Yale (David Roberts) is a successful, button-down contractor whose construction company has just started work on a lavish luxury resort complex outside of Sydney. Indifferently married, Ray is embroiled in an affair with Carla (Claire van der Boom), a sexy younger woman who lives across the river in their suburban neighborhood with her husband. Ray and Carla tryst avidly in parked cars and secluded motel rooms, but Carla is getting fed up and wants something more permanent.
One day she finds a gym bag full of cash hidden away by her husband, “Smithy” (Anthony Hayes), a tow-truck driver with unsavory connections. Carla tries to convince Ray that this is their chance to finally run away together. Certain the money can’t be “clean,” she argues that they would be morally justified in stealing it from Smithy. Ray balks at first, but when she threatens to leave him, he caves in. The only problem Carla insists is that Smithy can’t know the money was stolen, or he’ll come after them. To cover their tracks they hatch a precarious scheme in which Ray has to step way out of his comfort zone and make contact with a jittery arsonist named Billy (Joel Edgerton). Of course, it’s all downhill from there.
But what a ride it is. As quickly and inevitably as the lovers’ plot spirals out of their control, the Edgerton’s plot ramps up to an almost gleeful and giddy degree. One bad idea leads to another in a relentless ripple effect that fans out to include unrelayed cell phone messages, shady business deals, disgruntled workers, dogs, babies, car chases, fire, one untimely rainstorm, hot-headed men with guns, timorous girlfriends, suspicious colleagues, blackmail, and murder.
This is a punchy feature debut for director Nash Edgerton, who layers on plot complications with precision and chutzpah. Nothing ever feels forced: the characters’ choices may be idiotic in the long run, but in the heat of the moment, they tend to make an awful kind of sense. A former stuntman himself, Edgerton keeps the action moving onscreen, but he also knows how to build suspense in the quiet moments, like the bravura scene when Carla dares to sneak a peek at the illicit money during the few minutes her husband is in the shower. The atmosphere becomes so charged that, even the insidious way a man makes an appointment to get his hair cut seems fraught with innuendo and peril.
Few of the well-chosen actors are familiar in America (the exceptions may be stoic protagonist Roberts, who was in the last two Matrix movies, and veteran Bill Hunter, who has two brief, but deliciously choice scenes), which adds an extra layer of credibility to the story: it all seems to be happening to real people. Joel Edgerton’s hair-trigger arsonist, Billy, is a disaster waiting to happen. Hayes’ lowlife Smithy can also be relied on to go off half-cocked, and director Edgerton makes the actors’ superficial resemblance to each other pay off in the film’s audacious climax.
Not every plot point makes absolute sense (although most do), but viewers should be so caught up in the moment, they won’t care.
For an extra thrill, get there in time to see Nash Edgerton’s six-minute short film, Spider (which plays before The Square), which kicks off the program with a bang.
THE SQUARE ★★★ With David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Joel Edgerton, and Anthony Hayes. Written by Joel Edgerton and Matthew Dabner. Directed by Nash Edgerton. An Apparition release. Rated R. 101 minutes. At The Nick. | LJ Watch film trailer >>>
Aussie Filmmakers come full circle with ‘The Square’ | By Greg Archer
Joel and Ethan Coen might want to keep their eyes on Aussie Brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton. The Australian siblings make for a powerful cinematic force in The Square, a film noir thriller hitting theaters this week (see review this page).
Think of the film as modern-day Hitchcock with a Coen brothers chaser.
The tale chronicles a married man and his mistress who plan to dash out of town with plenty of stolen cash collected from a caper the gal’s questionable husband orchestrated. Everything indicates a smooth departure until the couple receives a blackmail note. Suddenly a stake: love, lust and, well, a brand new emotional frontier.
“I believe the strength of us being brothers pushed each of us even harder than if we were just working on the film on our own,” Joel Edgerton says about his filmmaking journey—he co-wrote the work, his first screenwriting outing, and brother Nash directed. Joel also stars.
That’s not so bad for a duo that Hollywood really didn’t offer much of a second glance to just more than a year ago. But the journey of any filmmaker is never entirely smooth, and while Nash had certainly proven himself sitting behind the lens on a number of memorable shorts, it took many years for the brothers to raise the finances for The Square. Then, there was seven weeks of pre-production, seven more weeks of shooting and then a bundle of time in post-production.
Actually, it’s hard not to recall a similar filmmaking duo, the Polish Brothers (Michael and Mark), who’ve developed more of a following veering away from traditional Hollywood filmmaking with their indie films—Twin Falls Idaho, Jackpot and Norfolk. The Edgertons may follow suit, but it’s certainly a lovely evolution for the guys since they made their own amateur films in the backyard of their Australian home. One of their “first” outings, at the age 8 or so, was dubbed The History of Isaac Newton.
“Mum taped over it,” Joel once mused with a laugh, “to tape one of those soaps, The Bold and the Beautiful.”
Chances are she wouldn’t dare do that with The Square.
“I’ve always been a real crime buff and of the unsettling feelings I got from watching noir film,” Joel says. “I wanted to make a movie that gave the audience that unsettling tension. The other inspiration for me was to create a scenario that was reminiscent of the little clippings you see in the newspaper, where you read some intriguing paragraph about some normal people that have done extraordinarily bizarre things.”
He does admit that taking on the role as writer created a big learning curve. “Before this, I was acting and I remember rolling with everybody else’s punches,” he says. “I had this idea sitting in a drawer for two years and I finally felt I could take on a big responsibility.”
All that hard work may not be lost on local film enthusiasts. Santa Cruz has always had a healthy appetite for edgy dramas that come from the fringe, especially when they know a filmmaker’s hard work is finally paying off—Joel, for instance, generated significant buzz back in 2002 with the TV hit “The Secret Lives of Us” and also delivered a provocative turn on stage last year as Stanley opposite Cate Blanchett in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” among other notables. This outing is a significant advance in his career.
As for what it was like working with his own brother, he noted, “I feel that there’s a lot of time saved in that we can be pretty straight up without getting offended. I think we understand each other pretty well.”
“It was pretty easy telling him if I don’t like something, knowing that we’ll still be brothers at the end of it,” Nash added.
Bottom line: The Square is a dream come true, although one that tested their faith, Joel’s in particular.
“To be honest, at times, it felt as if it were a dream that may not come together,” he says. “It was kind of an insurmountable task.”
Yes. But one that now has come full circle.