Nash Edgerton & The Square

square_ausDeception, intrigue, murder, bribery, stolen money, blackmail, arson, illicit trysts. Sounds like classic film noir turf, the stuff that Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, The Postman Always Rings Twice and even Body Heat are made of.

So you would think that Nash Edgerton, the director of The Square, the knockout modern noir that boasts all of these elements, would be well-schooled in the dark and dangerous films of the past.

Surprisingly, Edgerton has never seen any of the aforementioned films, which makes his acclaimed directorial debut even more remarkable.

“I’m definitely a fan of Fargo and Blood Simple and Bound, but I hadn’t seen them in a long time before I made this film,” says the 37-year-old Aussie during a stop at the Philadelphia Film Festival.  “I was saying to my brother (Joel, the co-star and co-scripter of The Square) the other day that I’ve never seen Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice. He’s seen them, and wrote this, and I hadn’t, but I got to give my fresh perspective on those kinds of stories.

“I want to watch them now, having them referenced (to me) so many times. The one film from that time that I really liked is Witness for the Prosecution.”

In the low-budget, Australian-lensed The Square, married contracting supervisor Ray (David Roberts) carries on an affair with neighbor Carla (Claire van der Boom), whose seedy husband Smithy (Anthony Hayes) has a bag of stolen loot he’s hidden in the attic. Carla comes up with a plan to steal the money, set her home on fire and take off with Ray. Of course, not everything goes as planned, and more people get drawn into this misconceived scheme, including an unpredictable arsonist (Joel Edgerton) and his younger sister (Hannah Mangan Lawrence).

Edgerton, who has made his living as a much-in-demand stuntman over the last 15 years and has worked on such films as The Matrix, Moulin Rouge! and Superman Returns, wanted to do something different than the influential films he named, but keep the action in a film noir world.

“I think you can’t help but reference how a film made you feel,” he says. “I guess those films (Fargo, etc.) are more set in a hyper-real world than The Square is. We tried to make it based in as much reality as we could. We cast ordinary people, and I thought the more real I could make the situation, the more tense it would be. I wanted to play it straight, not tongue in cheek. Some people laugh at some points, and others are terrified. I have a dark sense of humor, so I think it is funny when bad things happen to Ray. People want to make up their own mind whether they want to laugh or not.”

The director, who has several short films under his belt, including Spider, which is playing in theaters with The Square, thinks that what makes his feature debut stick out is that it touches on the characters’ feelings, interactions and flaws.

“Carla’s husband is not really a bad guy–he feels bad when he hits her,” relates Edgerton, who is wearing a shirt with Max from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are on it. “And they just don’t communicate. And you feel that at some time they were in love with each other, but they’ve just gone in different paths. And Ray and his wife…she’s not a nag and he has to get away from her. They’ve fallen out of love with each other. And with Ray and Carla, you find them in the middle of the affair and it’s not all hot and steamy—it’s kind of mundane. They have a connection, and they’re shagging in the car, but I didn’t want make things easy for all the characters to make their choices. I thought the more complex and grey their situations were, the more relatable it would be to real people.

Edgerton hoped to make The Square filled with memorable characters. “Joel and I talked about how we wanted every character to feel like you could watch a movie about each of them,” he explains. “You know it’s like that in small towns, too. You know how they have the knowledge of each other and how their lives are intertwined? Everyone is affected by everyone else’s actions.”

Mirroring the plot of the film, The Square’s journey to theaters has been filled with lots of unpredictable twists and turns. The movie opened in Australia in 2008 and was well-reviewed, but it is just now getting to American theaters after lots of heat collected at film festivals.

The reason for the delay, says Edgerton, is that he decided to wait for the proper distributor that could market the film from an unknown filmmaker with a virtually unknown cast. Bob Berney, the former head of Newmarket films, which released The Passion of the Christ, Monster and Memento, saw The Square at a film festival in Sydney, loved the movie, and picked it up for his new enterprise, Apparition.

Now, with The Square drawing attention and mostly enthusiastic reviews, Edgerton is working on another film with his younger brother.

“Joel and I are writing something,” Edgerton says. “I do want to do a bigger film. I’m used to making shorts, and this movie, and having control. The idea of having other person telling me what to do doesn’t appeal to me.”

Here’s Irv’s review of the film: