Film Noir is not a genre that one normally associates with the Aussie suburbs. The Square, Nash Edgerton’s directorial feature debut, however, takes that unlikely location and weaves a twisted, compelling and darkly ironic tale.
Raymond Yale (David Roberts) is in a loveless marriage. He’s also having a passionate affair with Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom) who, in turn, is married to gruff, angry crim Greg (a stand out performance from Anthony Hayes).
Things start to heat up when Carla finds a bag of money from Greg’s latest crime. This is her chance to escape her controlling husband and flee with Raymond. A simple plan that soon careens out of control… but we won’t spoil it. This is a film best seen with as few expectations as possible.
Nash Edgerton – deftly directs the script written by brother Joel Edgerton – who also appears in the film as pyromaniac Billy – and Matthew Dabner, who previously did script duties with Alex (The Crow; I, Robot) Proyas.
Nash Edgerton started in the industry doing stunt work; a lot of stunt work.
How did you get into the stunt game, Nash?
NE: I never really considered it as a career at first. I used to always do things like jump off the roof. I was just out of school, doing an electrical engineering degree at uni and I just wasn’t feeling it.
So you just up and started stunting?
NE: Actually I was at a school formal and some guy said ‘stunt’ or was talking about stunts and the idea just sort of stuck in my head.
The kind of idea that seems awesome after a couple of beers?
NE [laughs]: I got the yellow pages and looked up “stunt”. I found a place that looked good, called them up and that was it.
You have a huge collection of stunts to your name, including doubling for your brother, Joel. Is that because he’s a big girl?
NE: I reckon Joel’s really capable but wouldn’t do half the things I do, probably because he’s smarter than me. But I’ve happily been his stunt double a number of times. I remember, on a TV show — it was 3am, I was getting hit by a car and he’s all rugged up with a coffee and I thought: ‘there’s something wrong with this picture.’
So you just sort of charged right into the stunt caper, what about directing? Did you just decide to swap on a whim?
NE: I didn’t swap. I still do stunts. Directing just seemed another challenge. And I know I can’t fall down stairs and get hit by cars forever. You get to a point where you can only be hit by cars and set on fire so many times.
We’re going to have to apologise for this question in advance, because no doubt every other journo has asked it – but with you directing and Joel writing – do you see yourselves as Aussie Coen brothers?
NE: Oh look, it’s a very flattering comparison. They’ve made a lot more films than we have!
And Joel Coen directs, whereas Joel Edgerton writes and acts. It’s a bit of a dodgy comparison, but some points in The Square felt like the Coen’s first feature Blood Simple.
NE: Blood Simple is one of my favourite films, and I’d love to work with Joel again. We’re both aiming for the same thing, both of us have the same objective in mind.
The tone of the film, or the style, felt very Australian. But it never felt forced. There was no overtly ‘ocker’ stereotypes on display. Was that something you did deliberately?
NE: There was a definite attempt to keep things realistic. I find the more realistic it feels the more chances of humour there are. Humour that comes from the situation and characters, I mean. Also, I think it’s a mistake to try and make an Australian film more Australian. You know: having shots of the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Opera House for the sake of it. I’m an Australian and I’m shooting in Australia with other Australians. It’s going to be an Australian film – you don’t have to try!
There was some nice linguistic quirks. ‘Good on ya’ was used several times to mean ‘shut up’ and ‘well done’.
NE: It felt right to use some classic Australian terms but at the same time the story was universal. One of the uniquely Australian things we did have was Santa Claus rocking up on a boat for the kiddies.
And the parents sitting back, chatting away, drinking beers because Christmas in Australia is bloody hot!
NE: That’s right. You don’t see that in a lot of Aussie movies. But those moments aside, this is a story that could happen anywhere.
Where’d the idea for film come from?
NE: The idea came from Joel. He likes to read the weird, little stories in newspapers, the ones that have no information other than what happened. He found one where some people were digging up the foundation of a house and found the skeleton of a baby.
NE: Yeah, but there was no detail about why it was there, nor any chain of events that lead up to that. So we speculated on a story like that, starting with the end and going backwards. We also wanted to have someone commit murder but try to make the audience understand why they did it. And even feel sympathy for them. We wanted to show the results of their actions and them reaching a point of no return.
That’s the beauty of The Square: everyone is doomed. But you don’t know how they’re doomed. It had a lovely random confluence of events interacting with people’s plans, a nicely nihilistic quality.
NE: We also wanted the characters to have layers. Like, it would have been easy to have Greg be a wife basher or Ray’s wife be a total nag – but that would let them off the hook. It can’t be that black or white. If you make anyone completely bad or completely good you take away any sense of realism. Everyone has moments of both.
There’s a scene that we won’t reveal the substance of, other than to call it the ‘dog scene’ – that seemed to be symbolic of the whole film.
NE: Yeah, that was our way of saying, ‘just when you think things can’t get any worse… they do!’ Also, it’s a scene you’d never guess the end of. I love taking the story to places people don’t expect.
Are you going to direct again?
NE: If they let me!
Directing a film does seems like an insane amount of hard work.
NE: Oh mate, a couple of weeks in and I thought ‘I’m never directing again!’ but towards the end I was dying to direct something else – while all the lessons and tricks I’d learnt on set were fresh in my mind. But it’s really hard work. It’s a marathon.
Do you have the next one lined up?
NE: Yeah I’ve got another idea – it’s in my head and on scraps of paper at the moment. This last month or so it’s became clear what I want to do next.
Same genre or something completely different?
NE: Something different. More like my shorts like Spider. More twisted black humour. A lot of people have told me The Square is pretty twisted but I want to go further, do more.
The Square opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday. July 31.