| The Square


Nash Edgerton

Australia, 2008


Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 16 March 2009

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2009 South by Southwest Film Festival

The Square refers to a plot of land at a construction site, its perimeter blocked off, and its interior a grid of rebar in preparation for a concrete pour. It is also a makeshift grave for a murdered man, and this is why the site’s foreman - one of a slew of characters involved in the impetuous crime that is this film’s central conceit - grows more anxious each time the formal pour is delayed.

This anxiety is to distinguish each scene in the film, none of which play out in precisely the way the practitioners of the crime would prefer. It’s a domino chain of cause and effect, a series of familiar demonstrations of selfishness and greed, one following the next in a series of casually entertaining contrivances. There are multiple scenes of intrigue, deception, and climax delivered in a monotone of familiarity.

The plot is so rigidly mechanized that the characters are rendered increasingly ineffectual. The initial error is set in motion by a man who loves a woman married to another man. There is her husband, who is hostile and untrusting. Then there is the proverbial suitcase full of money that has them all considering the prospect of escape.

The director, Nash Edgerton, handles these events with comprehensive adeptness, and the film never lags even if its highlights don’t reach the feverish heights he aims for. The problem is that he’s dressed his familiar plot mechanics with frivolous characterization, specifically misogynous perception of women, and sporadic violence uncharacteristic of its enactor.

There is nothing wrong with how the film overexerts the machinations of plot at the expense of proper characterization. But the problem, once the plot devolves into desparate characters and their desperate actions, is that the characters engender no sympathy. When the mess unfolds at the end, the most enterprisingly manipulative character is on his knees weeping because of his losses, and we’re to sympathize with his total misfortune. Instead, we’re left with the sense that his sorrow is entirely earned, as well as that of each other conspirator, betraying any investment the viewer has in any of the principal characters.

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