Joel and Nash Edgerton aim to move beyond ‘Square’ one

A pair of illicit lovers, a bag of money and a slim hope for a new life -- these are some of the essential building blocks of crime fiction. They are also the backbone of the story in “The Square,” an Australian-made film from brothers Nash and Joel Edgerton that is something of a self-conscious throwback to the post-"Reservoir Dogs” crime thrillers of the 1990s.

Directed by Nash and co-written by Joel (with Matthew Dabner), the film tells the story of Ray (David Roberts), a middle-aged, married guy who begins an affair with a married woman (Claire van der Boom, currently in HBO’s “The Pacific”) whom he meets when they are walking their dogs. Her husband has recently come into possession of a large sum of money, enough for the lovers to imagine a getaway. In making their pillow talk a reality, Ray sinks deeper into a world from which there may be no escape, as the concentric circles of crime and deception tighten around him.

Nash Edgerton began his film work as a stunt performer, a career he embarked upon not long before Joel decided he wanted to try acting. Starting with “Loaded” in 1996, the brothers -- Nash is 37, Joel is 35 -- began making short films together, alternating acting scenes with stunt scenes. (“The Square,” opening Friday at the Nuart, is being released to theaters with one of their shorts, “Spider,” preceding it.

“Filmmaking was born out of our need to create a calling card for ourselves,” said Joel, who also has a small part in the film, during a recent joint interview with his brother in Los Angeles. “We didn’t want to be filmmakers, we just wanted to have something to show someone that we could be stuntmen or actors.”

A close reading of the credits to “The Square” reveals the names David Michôd, Luke Doolan, Spencer Susser, Kieran Darcy-Smith and Tony Lynch, who, with the Edgertons, make up the filmmaking collective known as Blue-Tongue Films. Michôd and Susser both had films -- “Animal Kingdom” and “Hesher” -- play at Sundance this year. Doolan saw his short film “Miracle Fish” nominated for an Academy Award. Darcy-Smith has a supporting role in “The Square,” and Lynch was the film’s stunt coordinator. All Australian save the American Susser, the Blue-Tongue filmmakers (named for a lizard that the Edgertons once had) have exhibited a sensibility for dark, noir-inflected stories that focus on the figures at life’s margins.

Grounded in reality

Nash’s background in stunt work means he is able to give the action scenes in “The Square” a grounding in reality that makes them all the more shocking. A punch to the face is depicted as sharp and stinging (and the remaining bruise turns an array of sickening colors as the film goes on), and when a brief car chase happens it feels awkward and reckless.

“It was never about doing stuff for the sake of doing stunts; it had to serve the story,” Nash explained. “I think a lot of that came from the original ‘Mad Max.’ The action all happens in real time. In real life when these things happen, you’re like, ‘What just happened?’

“I always kind of aim with the action stuff to make it feel like as an audience member you’re experiencing what the people are experiencing. As soon as you go into slow-mo or repeated edits, shooting it like it’s a stunt, it takes it out of that reality. The more real you make that stuff, the more tense it will be.”

“The Square” is set in a suburb similar to where the Edgertons grew up outside of Sydney. The film’s tight, dense plotting presented its own set of challenges, because throughout the writing, filming and editing of the film, the brothers had to make sure everything fit together tightly for the denouement. Even what seem to be insignificant grace notes -- a TV news report, talk of shark cages, the lovers’ two dogs -- are all pieces of the puzzle.

“I’m such a stickler for everything tying up too,” said Nash, “all the clues for everything that happens are in the film. I wanted to keep it all feasible.”

A look ahead

For now, both brothers are busy with projects of their own. Joel appeared onstage recently opposite Cate Blanchett in “A Streetcar Named Desire” in Sydney and New York and is now in production on a remake of “The Thing.” Nash meanwhile did stunt work on the upcoming Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz film “Knight and Day.”

“It actually keeps us wanting even more to keep that foothold in working on our own stuff,” said Joel of the increasing visibility of their individual careers. “Working on other things just makes us more excited about what we can achieve together. Even the wider group of Blue-Tongue, we just want to keep that alive; then we feel like we’re a part of our own future, our own destiny.”