It’s hip to be Square

The Square pegs film noir suspense

“What happened to your hand?” adulterous wife Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom) asks her unsavory husband Greg (Anthony Hayes) early on in The Square. Greg shrugs at his bandaged fingers and replies, “Just a bit of mischief,” not realizing Carla has discovered his mysterious satchel of ill-gotten money.

“Mischief” understates the various characters’ misdeeds in Australian Nash Edgerton’s The Square, which cover nearly every possible crime and misdemeanor, from construction kickbacks and arson to much, much worse. Edgerton’s sharp, moody film noir could be titled The Building Contractor Always Rings Twice as Carla and her married lover Ray (David Roberts) scheme to steal Greg’s money and abandon their spouses. They enlist a petty criminal (Joel Edgerton, the director’s brother and co-writer) to set a fire to cover the theft, but things spin out of control almost immediately.

American audiences might associate Australian films with either Sydney or the sun-baked outback. The Square, however, takes place in a green, hilly town that could be part of the American Southeast, were it not for the sharks in the river. Edgerton reveals a nasty sense of humor and willingness to prove the fragility of the human body. His short film “Spider” precedes The Square. The director demonstrates his cruel wit and fiendishly builds tension in “Spider” with a squabbling young couple in a car and a practical joke that could have catastrophic consequences.

Edgerton clearly has studied the Coen Brothers’ work, especially Blood Simple. Although The Square doesn’t match Blood Simple’s vision of violent cause and effect that litters the Texas landscape with bodies. Roberts’ performance conveys the film’s moral compass as Ray struggles to keep his hands from getting too dirty while circumstance drives him to increasingly desperate acts. The square in question turns out to be a central plot of Ray’s construction site that could be a great place to bury a body, if only the cement gets poured before its discovery. Ultimately, The Square suggests that the business of cheating and murder is nearly as ruthless as the Australian construction industry.