NYFF Film Review: ‘The Square’ Has Uniqueness But Ultimately Falls Flat

2017 NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: A new evolution of storytelling, Ruben Östlund‘s satirical dramedy “The Square” is a hard nut to crack.  Offering laughs and poignant moments, the Swedish film stumbles to earn its long runtime before getting a few shoulder shrugs and a couple of chuckles.  

“The Square’s” synopsis reads “a poignant satirical drama reflecting our times – about the sense of community, moral courage and the affluent person’s need for egocentricity in an increasingly uncertain world.”  Unsure if that’s how I would describe it but litter in a man named Christian (played by Claes Bang) who is pickpocketed outside his museum.  The antics that follow will involve him writing some letters, sleeping with a journalist (played exquisitely by Elisabeth Moss), and setting up a man living as a monkey (played daringly by Terry Notary).

The problem with “The Square” is that it encompasses a handful of show-stopping sequences that manage to grip the viewer’s attention.  The situations that occur skew the line of absurdity that it almost becomes surreal that it lands falsely.  Östlund’s script becomes painfully drawn out, aching to build to a fulfillment that never really comes.  This all partnered with a long runtime that feels both obnoxious and unnecessary.

The quirks and beats are ambitious, even brilliant at moments.  Östlund’s high points come from the performances he pulls from his cast.  As the film’s lead, Claes Bang’s Christian tightly rides the line of black comedic brilliance and weirdly constructed dramatic actor.  He finds Christian’s gullibility and absurdity and embraces it for the viewer to relish.

Elisabeth Moss, always impeccable in any medium she touches, is the film’s true standout.  As the eccentric journalist Anne, Moss slivers her way into a niche that keeps the film afloat.  She longs for excitement and is unbothered by the world around her, fixated on the one task at hand.

Dominic West’s brief scene is memorable although overshadowed by an oddly inserted scene of a man with Tourette’s syndrome.  Terry Notary’s daring work as a man living as a monkey (not too far-fetched considering his past roles in “Kong: Skull Island” and “War for the Planet of the Apes”), is the film’s most enthusiastic and earnest scene that can stand brilliantly as a short film rather than a part of the film’s ultimately flawed structure.

“The Square” has highly regarded crafts.  Smart camera work with interesting questions that it asks.  As a foreign language venture, where about 20% of the film is in English, it’s unclear whether the Academy Awards will embrace something with so many American sensibilities.  Its offbeat approach will be attractive to some but unusual to many.

“The Square” is distributed by Magnolia Pictures and opens in limited release on Oct. 27.

GRADE: (★½)

Check out the newest Oscar Predictions and see where “THE SQUARE” ranks!



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Clayton Davis--prolific writer and autism awareness advocate of Puerto Rican and Black descent, known for his relentless passion, dedication, and unique aptitude. Over the course of a decade, he has been criticizing both film and television extensively. To date, he has been either featured or quoted in an array of prominent outlets, including but not limited to The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter. Growing up in the Bronx, Clayton’s avid interest in the movie world began the moment he first watched "Dead Poets Society” at just five years of age. While he struggled in English class all throughout grade school, he dived head first into writing, ultimately taking those insufficiencies and transforming them into ardent writings pertaining to all things film, television, and most importantly, the Academy Awards. In addition to crafting a collection of short stories that give a voice to films that haven’t made it to the silver screen, Clayton currently serves as the Founding Editor of AwardsCircuit.com. He also holds active voting membership at various esteemed organizations, such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Broadcast Television Journalists Association, African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, Black Reel Awards, and International Press Academy. Furthermore, Clayton obtained his B.A. degree in American Studies and Communications.