Australian cinema's great "Blue" hopes

Two brothers and their buddies mold the shape of down-under cinema with The Square.



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Here’s how you break into filmmaking: You go to a big-name film school or at the very least, do time behind the counter of a hip video store. (Remember those? Sigh.) You keep your personal relationships worlds apart from your professional inner circle. And with all due respect to the great Hal “Smokey and the Bandit” Needham, you don’t backdoor your way into the director’s chair by being the guy who set himself on fire while jumping out of 14-story buildings.

Thankfully, nobody told Nash Edgerton this, or perhaps the 37-year-old Australian director and former stuntman (a profession he impulsively joined after quitting college) simply chose to ignore the auteur road most traveled. Before he was getting regular stunt work on blockbusters such as The Matrix and the Star Wars prequels, Edgerton recruited a few industry friends and his younger sibling—up-and-coming writer-actor Joel Edgerton—to help him put together a show reel of daredevil derring-do. “It was just something we did to build up our rsums,” Nash says. “But then we all looked at it and thought, We could make a really good short out of this.” The result, “Loaded” (1996), did more than get Nash and his pals gigs. It also gave them the bug to keep making their own shorts on the side and set the groundwork for what would become Blue Tongue, a loose fraternity of down-under filmmakers who share a love of genre flicks and a one-for-all mentality.

Now that The Square, Nash’s 2008 feature-film debut and the first bona fide Blue Tongue feature, is finally getting a stateside release on April 9, American audiences can sample the sort of blackly comic, aggro-ironic work these Aussie gents specialize in. A construction foreman (David Roberts) is having an affair with his neighbor (Claire van der Boom); when she spots her thuggish husband hiding a bag of loot, a plan is hatched between the two lovers to nab the dough and run off together. To say that things go horribly wrong is a given, but it’s the deft way in which the director and Joel, who cowrote the script and costars as an arsonist-for-hire, play with the film’s Postman Always Rings Twice narrative that makes this neonoir such a giddy nail-biter.

“I’d originally set out to write a crime-caper film for Nash to direct,” Joel, 35, says. “That happened to be the flavor of the month in Australian movies, and I found myself asking, 'Do we really want to be following the herd here?’ Out of desperation, I passed him this other thing I’d been working on. I told him, 'This is a bit rough, and the story isn’t anything new, but at least it’s not on every third screen right now.’ The fact that we share the same sensibility helps immensely; we both believe that there’s no rule saying genre movies can’t be smart or well-done.”

Though neither the Edgerton brothers nor their associates subscribe to making one particular type of film, they cop to gravitating toward stories of dangerous, volatile dudes and desperate situations. “Boys will be boys, I guess,” director David Michd responds via e-mail. A former magazine editor who fell in with Nash after meeting him in their shared office complex, Michd’s gritty outlaw-family drama Animal Kingdom won the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance. “There’s something about the visceral nature of crime and violence that underwrites a rich dramatic terrain that we’re all drawn to. Regardless of what movies we all like, the main thing is that we all seem to like each other. I know that if we hadn’t formed and nurtured our little gang, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have continued making films.”

Both the moral support and the propensity for pitching in on one another’s projects have helped this group build up a nice body of work: Joel costars in Animal Kingdom, which was edited by BT member Luke Doolan; Michd cowrote fellow BT regular Spencer Susser’s upcoming thriller Hesher, for which Nash did stunt-doubling duties. And as The Square is being released here right after both Hesher and Animal Kingdom made a splash at Sundance and one of Doolan’s shorts garnered an Oscar nomination, everything seems to be breaking for them all at once. “It’s great to see your friends do well, especially since it spurs you on to do something just as good or better,” Nash admits. “When Joel and I got back from the Kingdom premiere party at 2am, we looked at each other and said, 'Okay, grab your laptop. Let’s start writing our next one right now.’”

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