This 2008 Australian crime/drama/thriller is 85% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, where 67% of the audience report liking it.
It’s Metacritic score is positive at 75%, which puts it into The Dark Knight Rises territory.
I think that's crap.
Raymond Yale (David Roberts) wants to run away with his girlfriend and start a new life. Before he does that, he has to get kickbacks from contractors, burn down a bank robber’s house, oh yeah – and abandon his wife.
This is a good excuse to talk about the differences between mystery, procedural, and horror.
To tell a story, you need a character, in a context, with a conflict, and his actions to resolve the conflict form the plot. Ideally, the climactic moment occurs when the character faces his greatest fear to gain his greatest desire.
The first attempt to resolve the conflict fails, but the character learns something and the consequences increase. The second attempt also fails, allowing the character to learn more, and the consequences increase further. The third attempt succeeds (in many types of story), with the character bringing his learning from previous attempts to bear. Fade to black, roll credits.
A mystery is a classic example. The “whodunit” leads a character through multiple attempts to resolve the mystery, often while a body count rises.
A procedural, and many thrillers, are “howdunit” stories. We know what happens and who did what, we just don’t know how the plot resolves. The skill in procedurals and thrillers is keeping us hooked, emotionally, and keeping up the pace.
For an excellent example, read Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks. Not many people can write two stories in one book, one progressing chronologically forward and the other backward, meeting in the chronological middle at the end of the novel.
A horror story, however, ends in failure.
Whatever lessons the character learns, he learns too late to resolve the ultimate conflict of the story. The character’s greatest fear turns out to be a red herring, a fake out, and the greatest desire turns out to be a terrible curse.
I bring this up because The Square is really an existentialist morality play structured like a horror story.
Raymond Yale has lived a very ordinary life. He becomes dissatisfied, and takes a lover, Carla Smith (Claire van der Boom). He knows that Carla wants to run away from her thug husband, so he starts taking kickbacks from various contracting firms.
Carla discovers that her husband, Greg ‘Smithy’ Smith (Anthony Hayes) is holding a bunch of cash from a robbery. She tells Raymond that if the house burns down, Smithy will think the money burned up. Raymond has no idea how to commit arson, or how to find an arsonist, but the pressure is on.
The problem is that Raymond has never really done anything before.
He sucks at it. Everything he does has unintended consequences, and then he has to do more to compensate for them, which causes more consequences, until at last the consequences take his greatest desire from him.
Sadly, The Square lacks any supernatural elements to make it more interesting. The creators don’t bother to build any sympathy for Raymond Yale. We have no idea why his life is unsatisfactory. We know why he wants Carla.
So, frankly, we don’t care. It’s exactly the kind of thing that highfalutin’ movie critics and hipster intellectuals like, but is actually a failure in storytelling.
I invite them to consider the words of Lee Marvin, who said, “If I have any appeal at all, it's to the fellow who takes out the garbage.”