Review: The Square

By  · Published on April 19th, 2010

I have to be honest, gushing festival praise for a film rarely entices my desire to see it. In fact, as a rule I tend to put off films that were boisterously lauded by festival-attending critics. I won’t deny it’s a strange principle, but I have been burned too many times when buying tickets to see these films theatrically only to leave the theater in a swelter of disappointment and disgust. But when the majority of the praise is coming from my inner circle of film critic buddies, I can’t help but be consumed by curiosity and I tend to seek these films out more fervently. The Square was just such a film; already a resident of the best-of-the-year lists of many of my colleagues .

The Square is the story of a man and a woman (Ray and Carla) who are desperately in love. I say desperately because although their passions are fiery and their love formidable, they are both married to other people. I’m sure you can imagine the relationships at play here, both philandering lovers feel distant from their legal spouses but provide them enough lip service devotion to stave off suspicion while they plot their eventual escape. It just so happens that Carla is married to a lowlife criminal who comes into a handsome sum of ill-gotten money. Carla comes up with a plan to steal the money, run away with Ray, and ingeniously cover their tracks. Who wants to guess how this best-laid plan unfolds?

I am sorry to disagree with practically everyone I know and respect, but The Square is decidedly average. There is absolutely nothing about this film from which one could extract brilliance. It is every bit a run-of-the-mill crime drama in the vein of, but nowhere near as interesting as, Double Indemnity. Don’t get me wrong, The Square is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. The plot is well structured and while the concept is a bit on the generic side, it has the benefit of being inherently watchable. And for the most part, the performances are solid but there is nothing remotely special about this film.

The big problem is the mediocrity brings into sharp focus what would otherwise be minor quibbles with the film. If you are going to tell a story so bland and hackneyed, you have to bring something new to the table. Or if not new, then at least compelling enough to compensate for the retread. But The Square provides only cookie-cutter, unappealing characters in the face of such a tired story with an execution that only qualifies as competent by a hair. I found David Roberts to be especially tepid in his performance. He is remarkably unlikable and that trait is not reserved for the moments when he is committing heinous acts but also before they even hatch their scheme. The fascinating thing, typically, about films like this is their propensity for prompting us to root for the “bad guys.” I mean, Fred MacMurray’s actions make him a scumbag in Double Indemnity, but his character is so amiable that we hope and pray that he gets away with it. I could care less whether Roberts succeeds in his plan or not because he is a blank slate emotionally who barely registers a reaction even in the most extreme of situations. Roberts actions are infinitely more despicable so it would stand to reason that he would have to be that much more likable in order to give the audience something to rally behind; no such luck.

On top of all of that, the shocking ending is predictable about five minutes before it happens which neuters the effect completely. When you realize that you are actually witnessing the end of the story, you mostly feel cheated that the film seemed to be building toward something it never achieves. The final shot is frustratingly drawn-out and seems to be mining for dramatic effect that does not exist. I don’t hate this film, but mostly because there is little to hate in the film just as there is a lacking of anything special. It’s like the mac-and-cheese they fed us in elementary school. It uses all the same ingredients and satisfies all the criteria to be called mac-and-cheese, but while it is edible, it is also bland, tasteless, and not something you would ever seek out. I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

The Upside: If you like star-crossed lovers bending the law to facilitate their love, this movie has that.

The Downside: Tired, rehashed concept played as average as it can be with few interesting characters.

On the Side: Director Nash Edgerton is also a stunt man with credits including: The Matrix, Star Wars: Episode III, and Superman Returns.

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.