A tasty neo-noir from the James M. Cain school of lust-driven dirty dealings, "The Square" reps a promising debut by Aussie stuntman-turned-helmer Nash Edgerton.

A tasty neo-noir from the James M. Cain school of lust-driven dirty dealings, “The Square” reps a promising debut by Aussie stuntman-turned-helmer Nash Edgerton. Potboiler about a suburban schlub and his mistress planning to swipe hot cash and live happily ever after is smartly assembled and cleverly plotted by scripters Matthew Dabner and Edgerton’s thesp brother, Joel. Male protag’s sketchy psychological profile detracts slightly, but in most respects, pic gets it right. Solid local biz looks likely on July 31 release following its world preem at the Sydney fest. Selected offshore markets could also bite.

Edgerton strides confidently into the big leagues, following a string of well-received short films made in between stunt duties on just about every big-budgeter shot Down Under in the past decade (“Superman Returns,” “The Matrix” trilogy). Serving chases and shootouts on the side, the helmer grapples in muscular fashion with the demands of a tricky, character-driven crime tale.

Supervising the construction of a honeymoon resort near Sydney, married man Ray Yale (David Roberts) is trysting in cars and chintzy hotels with flighty hairdresser Carla (Claire van der Boom), his much younger neighbor.

Showing time-honored femme-fatale smarts, Carla, whose found a bag of loot hidden by her criminally connected husband Greg (Anthony Hayes), needles weak-willed Ray into acting on his promise of “being together when the time’s right.” Her plan: Snatch the dough and throw Greg off the scent by torching the house. Scheme goes haywire when Ray’s last-minute cancellation call fails to reach arsonist Billy (Joel Edgerton), resulting in the death of Greg’s elderly mother. 

Precision-tooled script heats up nicely as the couple attempt to cover up and fend off Billy. Blackmail demands start arriving from a surprise source, and a host of vividly drawn minor characters, including shifty concrete-truck operator Barney (Kieran Darcy-Smith) and scuzzy electrician Leonard (Brendan Donoghue), are suddenly thrust back in as major players. Elaborately mapped events reach a bloody and satisfying climax, leaving those alive hardly better off than the corpses.

Only real hitch is Ray’s underdeveloped background. Little is revealed about his relationship with wife Martha (Lucy Bell); he’s neither a sympathetic henpecked husband nor an outright rotter. That said, unheralded character actor Roberts does just fine and is backed up by spot-on support perfs. After a slightly wobbly first few scenes, van der Boom fires impressively as the demanding Carla.

Brad Shield’s widescreen visuals are clean, with several standout scenes in torrential rain at the construction site. Composer Francois Tetaz hits the right moody notes, and the rest of the tech work is sharp.

The Square 

Australia

Production

A Roadshow Films release of a Film Finance Corp. Australia presentation, in association with New South Wales Film and Television Office, of a Film Depot production, in association with Blue Tongue Films. (International sales: Pathe Pictures Intl., London.) Produced by Louise Smith. Executive producers, Nash Edgerton, Joel Edgerton, Matthew Dabner. Directed by Nash Edgerton. Screenplay, Joel Edgerton, Matthew Dabner.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Brad Shield; editors, Luke Doolan, Nash Edgerton; music, Francois Tetaz; production designer, Elizabeth Mary Moore; art director, Angus MacDonald; costume designer, Sally Sharpe; sound (Dolby Digital), Peter Grace; assistant director, Drew Bailey; casting, Kirsty McGregor. Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival (competing), June 16, 2008. Running Time: 105 MIN.

With

David Roberts, Claire van der Boom, Joel Edgerton, Anthony Hayes, Lucy Bell, Kieran Darcy-Smith, Brendan Donoghue, Lisa Bailey, Peter Phelps, Bill Hunter.

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