Make sure you arrive at the theater on time if you’re going to see The Square. Obviously, you’ll get better seats. You won’t distract ticket holders better schooled in moviegoing etiquette with lots of pointing and outside-voice debates before crawling over their laps. But most crucial is not missing the opening nine minutes, which is all first-time feature director Nash Edgerton needs to jolt you to attention with a taut, sublime, and shamelessly violent sequence of events that will leave you gasping, giggling, or, more likely, a little bit of both.
Then an unusual thing happens: The credits roll. What you just saw is Spider, a short also directed by Edgerton that gives you a Pixar-like taste of what’s to come. (That is, if Pixar dabbled in blood and guts instead of bunnies and magic hats.) It’s a great introduction, faulty only in that its perfection makes The Square itself a bit of a letdown in comparison. Still, there’s a reason Nash and his scripter sibling, Joel Edgerton, have been dubbed the Australian Coen brothers, and their debut feature is a familiar but gripping spiral down the sloppy-criminals rabbit hole.
The plot, co-written by Matthew Dabner, fuels its own fire. (Literally, at one point.) Fargo-like, the story comprises a small group of easily tempted characters, some inherently decent and others firmly entrenched in the underworld. Forbidden love is essentially what leads to an ever-increasing body count: The May-December affair of Carla (Claire van der Boom) and Raymond (David Roberts) is lustful and satisfying yet headed toward ultimatum territory. Raymond’s forever telling Carla that he’s going to leave his wife. So when Carla, who lives with the shifty Greg (Anthony Hayes, cartoonish in his dirtbaggedness), comes home one day to find her beau bloodied and acting strange, she snoops until she finds a sack full of cash. There’s so much, she giddily tells Ray, that Greg will never miss the handful she grabs so that she and Ray can finally start a new life. He turns white at the thought but reluctantly agrees to set up a fake burglary/arson to ensure Carla is never suspected.
Do I really need to mention that things don’t go as planned?
From the first major “whoops!” onward, The Square is a tense and wince-inducing topple of deadly dominoes. Poor Ray, who seems to actually have a conscience despite cheating on his wife and taking some small-time kickbacks related to his construction business, gets the worst of the fallout, and Roberts is excellent at looking increasingly tortured when his character was never all that cheery to begin with. There are dozens of what-ifs implied in the script, most from the characters who only dabble in illegalities for pocket money. As they did with Spider, the Edgertons don’t waste a minute of running time with superfluous scenes or expository dialogue, and their most impressive achievement is unfurling a thriller that stands up to logic. Though The Square can’t exactly be called entertaining, it’s certainly interesting and well-executed. The brothers earned their moniker.
He drops a lot of weight. There—now step away from Fandango, set your DVR to record The Biggest Loser, and forget about seeing Lbs., a well-intentioned but terribly executed story about an obese 27-year-old who 180s his lifestyle after a heart attack. The allegedly critic-proof angle of the film is that Carmine Famiglietti, who plays the pasta-loving Neil, actually shed approximately the Olsen twins’ worth of bulk during the shoot. In fact, Famiglietti started the project, which he co-wrote with friend and first-time director, Matthew Bonifacio, as an unorthodox way of taking a definitive step toward tackling his addiction to food. We see him try, fail, and try again—so this makes the movie so personal, so inspirational, right?