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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Square



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#1 of 6 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 22 2010 - 10:48 AM

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The Square

Studio: Sony
Year: 2008
Rated: R
Program Length: 106 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p
Languages: English DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English, English SDH

The Program

The Square is an intriguing but flawed modern film noir from Australia by first-time feature film director Nash Edgerton. The story takes place in a working-class suburb of Sydney. Ray Yale (David Roberts), an unhappily married construction foreman, is having an affair with Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom). Carla is a hairdresser who is married to Greg (Anthony Hayes), a shady character who is known as "Smithy" to his unsavory friends. Carla arrives home from work one afternoon and catches a glimpse of her husband handling a satchel full of cash in the laundry room. Greg doesn't realize that Carla has seen him, and she later finds the satchel hidden in a crawl space. Ray has been promising Carla that he will leave his wife, but he needs more money to make it work. Ray is overseeing a major construction project, the building of a luxury resort, and he agrees to award a major contract to a cement contractor in exchange for a substantial kickback. Carla then tells Ray about the money which her husband has hidden in the house. She wants Ray to steal the money so they can leave a make a new life for themselves. Ray resists, but he relents when Carla threatens to break off their relationship. The catch is that they have to figure out a way to take the money without Greg and his associates learning what happened.

They decide that the cleanest way to pull it off is to burn Carla and Greg's house down when no one is home, thereby leaving the impression that the money was destroyed in the fire. Ray then has a meeting with an arsonist, Billy (Joel Edgerton, brother of the director), who agrees to do the job. It is late December, and the plan is to set the house on fire while everyone is attending the town's annual Christmas festivities. When Greg leaves for work one morning, Carla climbs up to the crawl space and grabs the satchel, leaving an empty one in its place. Apart from the house burning down, she reasons, no one is going to be hurt. She does not know where Greg got the loot, but obviously it is dirty money - so the only ones losing out will be her husband and his accomplices. On the day of the community's Christmas celebration, Carla and Greg head out to join in on the fun, while Ray attends with his unsuspecting wife. Then things begin to go horribly wrong.

Before long everything seems to be spinning out of control. Then, just when Ray begins to think that he and Carla will be able to get through it, he receives an anonymous blackmail note. Someone, it would seem, knows what they have done. Unintended consequences are staples of film noir, and The Square is full of them - too full, in fact. A common shortcoming of young directors is the failure to recognize when enough is enough. In the case of this film, there is one scene involving Ray and his construction assistant which includes a totally implausible and unnecessary twist and resolution. There also is a story thread about the two family dogs (during the dalliances of Ray and Carla, their respective dogs have become fast friends) which promises a payoff but ends in a disappointingly unsatisfying manner. Overall, though, there is plenty to like about The Square. The performances are uniformly first-rate, and there are a number of shocking and violent events which ring true and keep the viewer guessing about what will come next.

Director Nash Edgerton'a resume shows that he is primarily a stuntman, but prior to The Square he directed several short films (one of which, Spider, is included as an extra on this Blu-ray release). Here he demonstrates that he has real promise as a filmmaker, creating both mood and look which perfectly suit the subject matter. The Square was barely released in the United States earlier this year, but it garnered mostly positive reviews and has now been given Sony's usual excellent Blu-ray treatment.

The Video

The 2.35:1 1080p Blu-ray transfer by Sony is excellent in every respect. The picture has a deliberately drab look to it, which is suitable because there is nothing glamorous about either the characters or the surroundings. Colors and flesh tones are solid and accurate. A moderate and appropriate amount of film grain has been retained to give the program a natural, film-like appearance. Much of the action takes place at night during torrential downpours, so it is good to see that black levels are solid and shadow detail is excellent. As is usually the case with Sony Blu-ray discs, excessive DNR and digital artifacts are nowhere to be seen. The 2.35:1 framing works very well and presumably is exactly as the film was projected in theaters.

The Audio

The lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is very, very good and successfully conveys the feeling of being immersed in the action. Dialogue is mostly confined to the center channel and is always clear, although American viewers may want to enable the English subtitles from time to time in order to decipher some of the Australian colloquialisms. The audio really comes to life during thunderstorms and with the sounds of gunshots. There also is an evocative soundtrack by composer Francois Tetaz. The soundtrack album, which was nominated for several awards in Australia, also features the singing of up-and-coming Australian singer and actor Jessica Chapnik,
The Supplements

There are a number of extras on this Blu-ray disc, although most are in standard definition and there are no commentary tracks.

The best of the supplements is Nash Edgerton's short film, Spider, which is in high-definition 2.35:1 1080p. This is a ten-minute short which is distinguished by two surprising events that will jolt you out of your seat.

"Inside the Square" is an interesting and unusual 30-minute "making of" featurette. It is a chronological record of the film's production from day one through the film's premiere in Sydney. This featurette contains numerous spoilers, so by all means do not watch it before viewing the film.

"Pre-visualisation" is a featurette which takes a look at how the film's more difficult scenes were conceived and executed.

"Scene Deconstruction" will be of interest to anyone who is interested in how films are made. Of particular interest is the opportunity to see the gimmicks which were used to set Carla and Greg's house on fire, a particularly challenging task because a real house was used.

Fourteen deleted scenes, all shown in standard definition, also are included. They help to fill in some gaps in the story, but it would have been nice to have a director's commentary to explain some of the cuts. One nice touch is that all of the deleted scenes either begin with or segue into scenes which remained in the film, helping the viewer to place where they would have appeared if they had not been cut. One of the scenes makes it clear that Ray's kickback scheme was not his first involvement with dishonest people.

Most Americans probably have never heard of Jessica Chapnik and will be interested to view and listen to her music video, "Sand."

Sony also has included trailers for Harry Brown, Fireflies in the Garden, The Runaways, A Single Man, Chloe, and the mini-series The Pillars of the Earth.

As usual, BD-Live features will be enabled on the release date.

The Packaging

The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

The Final Analysis

The Square is a generally impressive feature film debut by a promising Australian filmmaker. The cast is mostly unknown in the United States, although Claire van der Boom had a notable role in the HBO mini-series The Pacific. Although a few caveats apply, fans of film noir will undoubtedly find this to be a very enjoyable and rewarding way to spend a couple of hours.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: August 24, 2010


Rich Gallagher

#2 of 6 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted August 22 2010 - 11:03 AM

Interesting that Sony released this. Amazon still lists it as an "Apparition Films" release, but that fledgling company is going through so much trouble that maybe they just turned it over to Sony.


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#3 of 6 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 22 2010 - 12:52 PM

It says "Apparition Films" in the opening credits. It looks like Sony's involvement has been limited to the DVD and BD.


Rich Gallagher

#4 of 6 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted August 29 2010 - 08:14 AM

Intrigued by Richard's review I spent this afternoon watching

The Square.

 

I think this review sums up my feelings very well.  It succeeds

as being a very entertaining -- at times quite suspenseful.  As Rich

noted, there are some aspects of the story that don't quite make

sense but overall, I don't think anyone will be disappointed with this

viewing choice.


Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#5 of 6 OFFLINE   AL KUENSTER

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Posted August 30 2010 - 05:41 AM

I agree with Ron's view saw this last week. A sad and tragic ending.


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#6 of 6 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted August 30 2010 - 09:11 AM



Originally Posted by Ronald Epstein 
As Rich noted, there are some aspects of the story that don't quite make sense but overall, I don't think anyone will be disappointed with this

viewing choice.


The one scene which struck me as very contrived is the one involving the car crash. Not the crash itself, but what happens immediately afterward.

 

 

Who would go off digging at a construction site at night with an infant in the car? And how could Ray then deliver the body and the infant to the hospital without being questioned by the police?


Rich Gallagher