Thanks to a reminder from The Square, I have added a new axiom to my compendium of cherished movie beliefs: Movies with plots centered around bags of money have a much higher than average chance of being awesome.
Over seven decades of movie history, from The Killing to Psycho to No Country for Old Men, no single element has driven film noir thrillers’ explorations of human corruption more efficiently than wads of cash. Nash Edgerton’s Australian spin on that tradition finds married construction-site foreman Ray (David Roberts) having an affair with beautician Carla (Claire van der Boom). When Carla finds a bag of bills hidden in their house by her sketchy husband Smithy (Anthony Hayes), she pushes Ray to concoct a plan for stealing it. And if you’re guessing that the seemingly foolproof scheme somehow goes awry, you’d be correct.
The script, by the director’s brother Joel Edgerton (who also plays a criminal brought into the plot by Ray), efficiently sets up Ray and Carla as characters whose loose morality makes them perfect film-noir protagonists. Though Roberts isn’t exactly subtle at conveying Ray’s guilt and anxiety—how this guy has managed to carry on an affair without getting caught is a mystery—the simple propulsive dynamics of Ray’s crumbling control make such a problem much easier to ignore.
But while The Square’s performances may be purely functional, as a piece of suspense filmmaking, it’s simply terrific. Several individual set pieces are almost perfectly crafted: Ray and Carla at a community Christmas celebration, trying to call off their criminal plans; Ray’s furious attempts, despite foul weather, to fill in the titular concrete slab that will hide some damning evidence; the mounting mystery of who may be blackmailing him. Throw in a half dozen or so truly startling plot twists, and you’ve got a yarn that deserves to collect up its own bags full of cash—completely guilt-free.
David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Anthony Hayes