Australian siblings Joel and Nash Edgerton's The Square has drawn favorable comparisons to the early work of the Coen Brothers, and for good reason -- much like their American counterparts did in Blood Simple, these fraternal filmmakers do an outstanding job of setting up a story of betrayal, treachery, and revenge, then steadily raising the stakes until it all comes crashing down in a climax that will have you gasping out loud. Don't be fooled by the generic title; The Square is the kind of thriller that starts off fairly unassuming, and gets increasingly intense with each passing minute. It's one of those films that few are likely to see first-run, since it's only getting a limited theatrical release, but will no doubt gain a strong following thanks to positive word of mouth. And while it doesn't exactly redefine the thriller genre, it is a near-flawless example of it.
Ray (David Roberts) and Carla (Claire van der Boom) are having an affair. They've been talking about running away together, but Ray seems reluctant to leave his wife, and they don't have enough money to make a clean getaway. Enter Carla's husband, Greg (Anthony Hayes), a hot-headed thug who just happens to have a full bag of cash sitting in his attic. Scheming, the illicit lovers plan to lift the money, then hire firebug electrician Billy (Joel Edgerton) to torch the house so Greg won't even realize it was stolen. Needless to say, the plan goes horribly awry, and before they know it Ray and Carla are both being dragged down the long, hard road to hell as their hopes for a happy future together go up in flames.
To reveal any more about the plot would be a betrayal to both the reader and the Edgertons, who have established themselves as true masters of their craft with their very first feature. But just because they've only now broken the 90-minute barrier behind the camera doesn't mean the Edgertons haven't been honing their talents in film for well over a decade; both have been appearing onscreen since the mid-'90s (Nash primarily as a stuntman in such high-profile films as Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones and The Matrix Revolutions, and Joel primarily as an actor in such films as Kinky Boots, Smokin' Aces, and Acolytes). Likewise, they've been working together as a writing/directing duo since the 1998 short Bloodlock (a film Nash co-directed with Kieran Darcy-Smith) -- no doubt a large part of the reason why The Square feels like such an assured first feature.
And assured it is -- from the airtight screenplay to the convincing performances, smart direction, and skillful editing, The Square immerses you in the story from the moment the plot is hatched to the final fade to black. It's a Pandora's box of lies, tragedies, and deceptions that uses Murphy's Law as a guideline, and it heralds the arrival of a fresh new talent (or pair of talents) on the international film scene. If you're a fan of thrillers and The Square is playing at a theater near you this weekend, make a beeline for the box office -- you'll be glad that you did. If you're one of the millions of unfortunate souls who don't happen to live on one of the coasts, you'll have a precious hidden gem to discover once the film finds its way to home video. And we'll all have something to look forward to as the Edgertons continue their impressive ascent to the top of the film food chain.