The Square

©2010, Apparition

David Roberts as Raymond Yale in Apparition's THE SQUARE.

Raymond Yale (David Roberts), a construction site manager, has an affair with a neighbor, Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom).  Carla’s husband, Greg (Anthony Hayes) has stashed away a bag loaded with money from illicit deals.  The film establishes this in a hand-held, continuous take following Carla through the house, and then Greg as he arrives while she’s attempting to relocate the stashed money.  We get the impression that Greg is already the suspicious, violent type.

Ray, on the other hand, is quiet, but monumentally stupid.  Carla half-jokingly suggests that setting fire to the house would make it appear as though the cash was destroyed; she and Ray could disappear, scot-free.  Instead of seeing the potential progression of events to follow, Ray blindly sets his mind to actually doing it.  However, he further complicates matters by waiting until the 11th hour to call it off.  This leads to a cascade of tragedies and repeated lapses of judgment on Ray’s part at every step.

Filmed on location,  shooting in the confined spaces of several homes ratchets the tension.  This aspect of production design, as well as the cinematography, is laudable, but the narrative seems too shallow, and Ray’s idiocy too predictable, that we know one grave mishap will be followed by an even larger one.  And that’s the story, if there is one.  Characters are defined by little else than is necessary to advance the plot.  What you see is what you get.  Greg isn’t a misunderstood genius trying to help his family out of bad times.  If you think at first sight he’s a charlatan and a brute, you’re absolutely right.

The second fundamental flaw is that this movie batters and deep-fries us in calamity.  A worker at the construction site is accidentally killed by Ray, but rather than surround the event with a story and character depth, it descends into essentially no more than an action film in which you wonder if there’s anyone in town who won’t be killed in this Rube Goldbergian conundrum.  Where first-time director Nash Edgerton starts out attempting a hint of Mamet, introducing characters and situations tangentially, he ends up leaning toward Tarantino, manufacturing drama with one ludicrous accident after another, instead of solid character development.  Imagine if the story had instead focused on Ray’s paranoia and not his physical response to impending suspicions.  His one mistake could drive him out of his mind waiting for an absolution he might deserve, but never receives.  However, Ray’s parade of incompetence guarantees no reprieve or sympathy; the viewer isn’t left with any conflicted feelings or difficult choices.  Actually, the film is a shooting gallery of deplorable, macho morons.  We can’t really feel sorry for anyone, except perhaps a dead mother-in-law.

The film attempts to employ the same mechanism as Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), whereby the main character is driven mad by a series of postcard threats.  However, in Mr. Altman’s celeb-noir, the threats and the man making them are a MacGuffin.  To reveal them would annihilate the Hitchcockian suspense.

To be fair, two scenes briefly elevate the film above the mundane.  While celebrating Christmas with fireworks, the townspeople barely notice when the fire department, in the middle of a skit to entertain the crowd, gets a call and suddenly packs up.  This is, of course, the arson Ray tried to call off.  Anyone who has ever suffered the consequences of a bad decision around the holidays knows what kind of pit grows in Ray’s stomach at that exact moment.  Later, Greg explodes at Carla over the money, which was found to be entirely missing from the remains of the house.  Seconds before he enters the room, she removes the money from her handbag and stashes it elsewhere.  Carla seems at first mortified, but her expression seems to turn to amusement at Greg’s idiocy.  While the motive to conceal Ray’s phone call to abort the plan is unclear, partly because we know little about the peripheral characters, we can infer his girlfriend may simply have been thinking about the money.  In this town, cleverness appears to be a matrilineal trait.

Are there people really as incompetent as Ray?  Sure.  But I don’t feel particularly compelled to watch them repeat the same mistake for 105 minutes.

The Square • Dolby® Digital surround sound in select theatres • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 • Running Time: 105 minutes • MPAA Rating: R for violence and language. • Distributed by Apparition

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