It's always a treat to see a film noir by a new director who understands just how dark a noir has to get to really get the juices flowing.
Not dark in the sense of gory or gruesome, though there's a little of both in Nash Edgerton's assured and chillingly entertaining Australian film, The Square, opening in limited release Friday (4/9/10). But Edgerton, working from a script by his brother Joel (who also acts in the film), understands that when you're putting a puzzle together, some of the pieces have rounded corners - but a lot of them have sharp edges that draw blood.
There's probably an algorithm for constructing a noir plot and the Edgertons seem to understand it clearly. You start with an upright man who's desperate enough to bend the rules. In this case, it's contractor Raymond Yale (David Roberts), who's slightly behind on a resort project he's building - and for which he's taking a hefty kickback for the concrete contract.
Ray, middle-aged and married, is also having an affair, with a hairdresser named Carla (Claire van der Boom). She's married to the shady Smithy (Anthony Hayes), who owns a towing service but apparently has other, less savory money-making operations. Carla spies him one day hiding a valise in a crawlspace in their laundry room. When she investigates later, she finds many thick packets of cash - and decides that she and Ray should steal the money and run away together.
Ray isn't sure, particularly because Carla's plan includes burning down her house to cover the theft of the money. But when he realizes that he could lose Carla if he doesn't take the risk that could ensure their future, he agrees to join her in the scheme.
But this being a noir - with Ray as the guy who can only envision the upside and not the possible pitfalls - something goes wrong. The money is stolen, the house is burned - but someone unexpectedly is killed in the fire. So Ray and Carla have to sit tight temporarily - and as they do, their plan starts to unravel.
Most of those loose threads seem to find their way to Ray, who attracts trouble the way some sweaters attract lint.