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REVIEW: The Square

A film noir sure to make critics' top ten best lists

The Square: Rates an A-.
Courtesy photo

My favorite thing to do in reviews is name two movies that a picture reminds me of. Ever since I saw Tim Robbins and Buck Henry do that in a Robert Altman film, I have fun with that.

I couldn’t do this with the brilliant film noir gem The Square. I wanted to say it was Fargo meets Marley and Me. This is a movie that could’ve been done by the Coen brothers. In fact, it’s better than the first Coen

brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson movies – although you can clearly see the influence they had on these Aussie filmmakers (Nash Edgerton and his brother [also like the Coens] named Joel).

There are even elements from other films. Director Nash Edgerton told me the scary scene, when a guy is snooping around with a flashlight, was inspired by a scene from Jaws. It took me a few minutes to even recall the scene.

Speaking of sharks, there is some talk of them in this movie, but none of that will remind you of Jaws. Okay, maybe one scene.

This movie reminded me so much of Fargo. Although I liked Fargo more (just a reminder: Fargo was nominated for 12 Oscars and won Best Picture), a few things in this film were better. I know some people didn’t care for the comedic elements of Fargo. The goofy accents, the various quirky characters the Coens are famous for. Sure, there’s some dark humor in The Square. I think it would be impossible for Nash to make a film without it (his short film Spider plays before the movie; it won awards before becoming a hit on YouTube). It gives you plenty of insight into the dark humor and rollercoaster ride you’re about to embark on.

Nash told me he had a fake spider and he was always scaring his mom and pranking her with it. I asked what she thought of the short and he said, “She was telling her friend how I used to play tricks on her, and now I’ve brought that en masse.”

It’s interesting to note that Nash went from being a stuntman in Hollywood (Matrix, Superman Returns, Star Wars II and III, etc.) to coming out with his first feature, which has very few stunts. In fact, I love the realistic look of so many scenes. A car crash that doesn’t show a car flipping six times in the air; a fight where two guys on a construction site pick up a pick-ax and a shovel, but quickly end up losing grip of them and wrestling in wet cement and not doing much damage to each other.

Nash talked about a show he saw that told how stunts were done in the 1920s (pre-CGI), and he wanted a more realistic approach in this movie. So when a character loses a leg on the construction site (this is starting to sound like the type of construction site you’d never want to work at, huh?); they hired a guy with a prosthetic leg, so they could remove it when they show him being rescued with a mangled appendage nearby.

This movie has two love affairs going on. One involves a couple of cheatingspouses. The other involves their pet pooches. And boy, that’s adorable. Trust me, you’ll fall in love with the few scenes the doggies steal.

It also involves bad decisions regular folks start to make when greed rears its ugly head.

Money that can easily be taken (whether that’s kickbacks from a contractor, or cash illegally obtained by a tow truck driver) -- might not be so easy to take after all.

And with most film noir pieces, there are twists at every turn. This only has a few twists, and I find them more satisfying then in most films. An example is the bad guy hired to help steal money and torch a house (played by brother Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the script). The twist is – after relishing his work on TV during a news segment, he quickly becomes guilt ridden when he realizes an elderly woman was accidentally killed in the process. He might be the only character in the film that regrets his actions. Well, him and the cute poodle…but I won’t ruin what happens with her love interest.

In current movies, people always feel the need to adapt current technology. James Bond and Jason Bourne have the latest electronic gadgets. And in Lakeview Terrace and The Departed, cell phones are used so horribly I immediately disliked both films. In this, the cell phones are used brilliantly. One character calls another to tell them why a plan has to be aborted, but his cell phone battery dies before he can explain why. And when that person tries to call her boyfriend to tell him, she hears his phone ringing on the counter next to her. Now…so many of us have tried to call a significant other, only to have the same thing happen. Imagine how thrilling it is to see this in a movie, realizing unlike your spouse who won’t be picking up the toilet paper you’re out of…someone might accidentally get killed.

At this point, you probably think I’ve given too much away. I don’t usually do that. But ya know what? You probably knew nothing about this movie. It’s one of my favorites of the year, and will be in many critics’ top 10 lists at the end of 2010. If I didn’t sell it somehow, you probably wouldn’t see it. It’s only at the Ken Cinema the rest of the week.

I ended up talking more about other movies with Nash, because he has such a love of film that it becomes intoxicating.

There’s a scene in his movie where a criminal hid money in the attic, looks up at the roof of his house, which was torched. Seeing the sky above the few rafters left, reminded me of an Ewan McGregor movie I couldn’t place. Nash’s excitement as he tried thinking of the name, with me saying, “I remember it had two words in the title,” and him responding “It was right before Trainspotting…” It was like playing a game of charades with Quentin Tarantino!

We were on to different topics when he remembered and said, “Shallow Grave!”

I told him how a scene involving the police questioning one of the guilty parties, reminded me so much of the scene in Fargo where William Macy is questioned, yet it’s totally different. It’s just as powerful a scene. Nash told me, “I don’t want to steal from these movies, but I want to evoke the same emotion people had when they saw those films. I had a scene in this I cut out because it was too much like a scene in Magnolia, where they quickly show all the characters with music underneath.”

He finds it on his cell phone and plays it for me. It is very similar to that scene in Magnolia, but I feel bad he cut it out. It’s brilliant. And hey, “borrowing” never stopped Tarantino.

I don’t usually read other reviews before writing mine, but with this I did, only because I was trying to decide whether I wanted to spend a Saturday afternoon seeing this and interviewing the director (I now can’t think of a better way to spend the day). I noticed a few critics said the problem is that this movie has no character to root for. Rubbish! First of all, there’s an Olivia Newton-John lookalike who finds out her husband is having an affair. You can root for her. There’s….well…okay, maybe her and the dogs; but Siskel & Ebert once had a huge fight when one of them made that complaint about a film. I think you can sit back and watch a bunch of people dig a deeper hole for themselves (both literally and figuratively), and still enjoy it. If you really can’t watch a movie without a nice-guy protagonist, well…rent The Blind Side.

I have many friends that love film noir. My problem with noir pictures is, often times, characters don’t follow an inherent logic that the writer establishes. Body Heat is a perfect example (and a movie this is being compared to). I lost interest in Body Heat when William Hurt threw a chair into a window to passionately get to Kathleen Turner and kiss her. What person in their right mind would find that move romantic and not just insane?

But I digress.

Let’s get back to talking about the Edgerton’s. After all, everyone loves going on and on about the Coen’s.

I told Nash I loved the fact that when a wife starts to realize her husband is having an affair, we never really see what she does about it. Maybe she stays silent. Maybe she leaves him; but the movie just hadn’t gotten around to show us that. Either way, we don’t need to be spoon-fed what every little character will do at every moment. Movies often dumb down for audiences because they know some loose ends aren’t neatly tied.

Nash tells me, “In Spider, my brother had written this long scene that explains the fight the couple had. I ended up not using that because, it really wasn’t all that important. The movie starts with them in a fight. We’ve all been in that position, where one person is trying to make-up and the other is still mad. What they fought about doesn’t matter.”

That made me think of a scene in The Square where a characters hand is bandaged. Now, in Chinatown, we know why Nicholson’s nose is bandaged. And that’s cool. In this, it’s cooler not knowing. As the intimidating tow truck driver tells his wife, “I got into some mischief.” Almost as great a line as Polanski telling Nicholson he’s being “too nosey” before cutting off part of his nose.

I’d tell ya the tow truck drivers name, but like everyone else in this movie, I don’t know. It’s a cast of unknown actors, which is also refreshing. Nash said how much he loved Magnolia again, and I tell him that as great as Tom Cruise was in it (even nominated for an Oscar), with his long hair and arrogant attitude in the film, it’s hard to still not think of it being Cruise. This is the type of thing that can be distracting in a film.

If I was working on the movie poster for this, I would’ve driven myself nuts. I’d come up with a phrase that’s perfect – “Best laid plans can go wrong,” and I’d quickly realize – these weren’t the best plans.

I might try to tie in Australian band AC/DC, and say “Dirty Deeds, done dirt cheap…can get expensive.” And I’d probably be sued by the Young brothers.

No clever catchphrase would do this gem justice. Do yourself a favor and see this movie. I’ll offer you a money back guarantee.

I asked Nash if it is hard directing his actors in scenes where they have to get physical, since he’s a stuntman. He said, “As a stuntman, often times they want the stars doing as many of the stunts as they can. So I become a coach to them, explaining how to do the stunts. It’s the same thing directing.”

Somebody please tell him his days of stunts should be over, and directing movies should be his future. In fact, I don’t want to risk anything happening to this amazing talent before we get the next couple dozen films from him and his brother. They’re going to give the Coen’s a run for their money.

I give this movie an A-.