Back in the day, filmmakers were careful to maintain a certain moral hierarchy, making sure that the bad people got what they deserved, and the good people walked off with maybe a scratch or two, but no real damage. It was just an understood thing, a product of the studio system in which content ” even slightly naughty content like noir ” was crafted so as not to offend.
Somewhere along the line, writers and directors decided that was a stupid policy, and they stopped pretending like good things come to those who play by the rules, and that cheaters never win. The existential cruelties of an uncaring universe jumped in the front seat and became the drivers of gritty, urban dramas.
“The Square” is interesting because it’s a gritty drama in the modern mode, but also a throwback to the time when everyone got exactly what he deserved. In that sense, it’s old-school noir, full of dark twists, betrayal and comeuppance.
The film screens Friday-Sunday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
Our anti-hero is Ray (David Roberts, “Ghost Rider”), a construction foreman working to get a set of luxury condos up and operating according to his jerk boss’s unreasonable schedule. While making deals, Ray accepts a kickback from one of his contractors.
But that’s not all. Ray is also having an affair with the much-younger Carla (Australian actress Claire van der Boom). Screwing around puts Carla on thin ice because her husband, Greg (Anthony Hayes, “Ned Kelly”), is a criminal of some sort, the kind of guy who treads quietly, carries a big gun and sports a super-sweet mullet.
Carla finds out that Greg has a boatload of cash stashed in their house, so she begs Ray to steal it, burn down the house, and then run away together to live happily ever after. Ray is reluctant, then decides to play along. He uses his kickback money to hire Billy (Joel Edgerton, “Smokin’ Aces”) to burn down her house while they’re all out having a Christmas picnic (that’s what they do in Australia, apparently).
While all that may sound complicated, it’s nothing to how things become when the plan begins to go wrong. One missed phone call begins a chain of events that leads to the inevitable doling out of justice for all involved. While it’s not much of a surprise to see some of the players punished, the ones who ultimately walk away scratched, but OK, are difficult to guess.
Like the old noirs, which often made Los Angeles look and feel like the underside of a shoe, “The Square” somehow makes the sunny Australian countryside and cities seem just as scuzzy ” a veneer barely covering a corrupt, greedy underbelly.
Roberts is perfect as the dour, hapless Ray, who can’t help but keep pulling his misery’s thread, and van der Boom projects just the right amount of conniving naivete to make her worthy of both sympathy and disdain. “Mike Robertson