The Sqaure (2008): A Bad Idea From Step One

Have you ever noticed how film genres tend to ebb and flow in popularity? A genre long forgotten or disparaged will cycle back through the public consciousness, usually following an exceptional (or exceptionally lucrative) entry into the canon. And unfortunately, as worthy as the entry is that reignites our passion for the genre, the standard rule is that all untalented hacks will then attempt to cash in on said revival as quickly as possible, leading to genre fatigue stemming from a stream of sub par movies. The last decade, romantic comedies received an unexpected champion in Judd Apatow, who can also be held responsible for the 80,000 bromances released in the past few years. Wes Craven has singlehandedly revived the slasher genre twice (A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984] and Scream [1996]), and destroyed it too many times over to count (the latest offender, Scream 4 [2011], lends solid evidence to the theory that Craven is out of ideas). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Western genre were to witness a brief revival after the Coen bros tackling of True Grit (2010), the same way Unforgiven (1992) was followed by Bad Girls (1994), The Quick and the Dead (1995), Wyatt Earp (1994), et al.

Film noir seems to work differently, perhaps because noir doesn’t attract the same large audiences. I can’t think of the last film that dabbled in noir conventions to hit it big at theatres. While a part of me mourns that these movies don’t register on a larger scale, it also means that I have yet to live through the noir inundation trying its best to strip me of any love I have for the genre. Noir films don’t come along often, but when they do, they tend to be tightly written little gems. The latest of which, The Square (2010), is my focus today; an Australian entry into the noir canon directed by Nash Edgerton.

Synopsis: A man and his neighbour, with hopes of leaving their partners and running away together, conspire to steal a bag o’ cash from her meth running husband to fund the venture.

A film noir, in its most traditional sense, plays as a cautionary tale. Typically, the central character is a prosocial person; they may not be all that ethical, but rarely are they criminal. Often they are white collared professionals, looking to make life a little easier, or more commonly, make life a little easier for the dame they’re so desperate to impress. They never seem to understand the world they’re attempting to infiltrate, yet rarely doubt their ability to emerge unscathed. These characters don’t know how black the world can be; even the worst they see is mostly grey. The traditional noir story follows our hero(ine) as they become more embroiled in the criminal world, and their plan spirals increasingly out of control. The hostage turned to me at one point and said, “that was just a bad idea from step one,” which I thought could almost be the noir crest motto. I might even go so far as to call them modern-day morality plays – don’t try to cheat your spouse/partner/boss etc., or look what’s in store for you! It seems an unwritten rule that these stories end darkly.

As things spiral wildly, we gain an understanding of who our protagonist really is. Mostly, the hero(ine) spirals out of control with their plan, making more and more mistakes, becoming more and more afraid and ruing their involvement in such a stupid idea from the beginning. Such a progression is realistic; we prosocial folk learn how to live in a law-abiding world with structure and reason. Criminals learn to live in their own world, a world where the police will as likely hurt as help you, a world where you can’t even rely on your parents for protection, a world where safety is a foreign concept. This is a world in which violence is more than an option; often it is the option. Recently I was speaking with a violent offender who was floored to learn that I had never once in my life been hit; he was not even aware such an existence was possible, as violence had permeated his reality from childhood. Obviously, while both raised on planet Earth, we come from two drastically different worlds. In noir, our protagonist occasionally discovers how well suited they are to this world of thieves and murderers –  rather than drowning, they find a way to tread water, usually with further criminal activity (Breaking Bad, when are you coming back to me?). In The Square, our hero Raymond seems to fall into this second camp. The violence he encounters in the criminal world overflows into other areas of his life, such as work, and when it appears he may be caught, he chooses not to do the right thing.

The Square is a film that respects and adheres to the noir conventions, but has updated the style to achieve a gritty realism. In addition, Edgerton has thrown in a few new twists. Without giving too much away, let’s just say I spent the entire flick trying to figure out if Carla was playing Raymond in traditional noir form. The Square suffers somewhat from my recent viewings of Winter’s Bone (2010) and Double Indemnity (1944), two nearly perfect films. Still, it is a solid take on the genre that any fan will enjoy.

One last thing, has the white trash meth industry replaced the mafia, and no one told me? It’s getting to the point that anytime you need a big bad organization in the midland, just go knock on the door of your local trailer park meth drug lord. Is this for real, or just in the world of TV/movies?

Until the next,

K

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~ by K. Harker on May 30, 2011.

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