Rating: *** [3 out of 4 stars]
In the world of movies that start arguments, "In the Company of Men" is a singular achievement. Women find it hateful; men find it embarrassing -- the most common word everyone uses is "disturbing."
This was the movie people were talking about up and down Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival in January. It's a creepy piece of work that gets under your skin, ruffles your sensibilities and just won't leave you alone.
Eight months later, it's still vivid and roiling in my mind. It will make you think, and, especially if you are a man, you may not like some of the self-examination it provokes.
Like most first-time, low-budget efforts, "In the Company of Men" has its deficiencies, mostly on a technical level -- the camera work is too static, the lighting is poor, and the staging is sometimes awkward. And yet, all of this has the effect of making you pay attention to the dialogue, and that's the point.
You are not likely to see a more challenging movie this year -- or perhaps this decade. Writer-director Neil LaBute received the coveted Filmmakers' Trophy from his fellow directors-in-competition at Sundance. What he really deserved was the screenwriting award.
Crafted with an unparalleled fierce, single-minded authority by the former BYU student, "In the Company of Men" tells the story of two men who set out to woo, win and then deliberately break the heart of a fragile woman over the course of a six-week business assignment in an unnamed city.
Why? Because they've been hurt by women in the past, and they want some kind of broad-based revenge on womankind.
Of course, the instigator is the better-looking, more macho of the two, a cad named Chad (played by Aaron Eckhart, also a former BYU student). His "friend," milquetoast Howard (Matt Malloy) -- who is apparently, nominally Chad's boss -- goes along simply to prove himself.
The woman they choose is a sweet, pretty secretary (Stacy Edwards) in the office where they are temporarily assigned. She is also deaf . . . not that it makes their quest at all daunting to them.
The plot is about as mean-spirited and nasty as they come, but LaBute doesn't stop there. He carries it to its logical and equally foul conclusion, which is why so many audiences around the country are in a quandary about it. It's an old problem, of course. Simply stated, can you make a movie about sexism and not make a sexist movie?
In some corners, "In the Company of Men" is being decried as misogynous, and that's understandable on a surface level, since it certainly describes the film's lead characters -- especially Chad. But the film is more an indictment of men with its unflinching view of sexist male camaraderie. Like it or not, in varying degrees, we've all been in the company of these men.
The performances by the three leads are excellent, especially Edwards, who is not really deaf, and Eckhart, who is (we hope) not really this hateful. (Eckhart's character is also racist and quite cruel -- not just to women, but to everyone.)
In the end, however, it is LaBute who will take the praise -- and the grief -- for what he has accomplished here.
Is the film difficult? Yes. Is it troubling? Yes. But is it artful? Absolutely.
OK. Here it is. We've been complaining about all the dreck we've had to endure this summer, now let's see if we'll put up our box-office bucks for a stark drama with something to say.
"In the Company of Men" is rated R for profanity, vulgarity and implied sex.
While enjoying Aaron Eckhart as one of the good guys in Suspect Zero, I couldn't help thinking about his debut performance as the ultimate bad guy in In the Company of Men. I had the opportunity to interview Eckhart in connection with that film, and what follows is the 1997 article I wrote as reprinted in my movie memoir, Confessions of a Movie Addict.
Watching total wickedness on the big screen can be pretty scary, especially when the evil-doer looks like an average, ordinary person one might see every day at work. In Neil LaBute's controversial film, In the Company of Men, newcomer Aaron Eckhart plays this type of villain with chilling realism.
As Chad, an unscrupulous mid-level executive, Eckhart depicts one of the most deliberately malicious characters ever seen on film. Chad hates everyone, particularly women. In order to get even with the opposite sex, he manipulates a naive colleague into joining his scheme to shower an innocent woman with attention, then dump her.
Waiting for my telephone interview with Eckhart, I can't help wondering if he's anything like the despicable Chad in real life. Eckhart's polite, soft-spoken apology for his late call immediately puts me at ease. He laughs a little when asked how his work as Chad has influenced his personal life. "After seeing the film, my girlfriend's mother complained to her that she shouldn't trust me anymore," he says. "That's why I don't want my own mother to see the movie. She still thinks I'm an angel."
Eckhart claims he was able to nail Chad's character so effectively because he reviewed case studies of sociopaths, studied their anti-social behavior and went to upscale Wall Street bars where he listened to men talk about their wives and girlfriends. With a hint of dismay in his voice, he says, "Chad is alive and well, I can tell you."
Will Eckhart get stuck in bad guy roles because of his stunning success as the malevolent Chad? "I hope not," he states. "In fact, if a remake of The Fabulous Baker Boys is ever in the works, I'd like to play the Jeff Bridges part." Nevertheless, Eckhart has signed on for another unsympathetic role in Thursday, a dark comedy from Propaganda Films.
Eckhart was indeed fortunate to land the career-boosting role of Chad in his first feature film. His only prior film experience involved small parts in television movies and a few commercials. However, LaBute knew him from their time together at Brigham Young University, so he took a chance. Eckhart admits his friendship with writer-director LaBute gave him the casting edge for In the Company of Men "After reading the script, I knew I just had to play Chad," he recalls.
No doubt the film's low budget of $23,000 also contributed to La Bute's decision to hire the unknown Eckhart. "We ate bologna sandwiches, and Neil even mowed the neighbor's lawn to help finish the film," Eckhart proudly declares, then points out that shooting took only eleven days. In an age of movie budgets closer to $100 million and with shooting schedules running into months not days, that's quite an accomplishment, especially considering the impressive results.
When asked to summarize the message of this disturbing movie, Eckhart replies emphatically, "Watch your back. Don't trust anyone or anything!" Sounds like good advice to me. Still, moviegoers can trust at least one thing -- Aaron Eckhart will shock them with his unforgettable performance as the contemptible Chad in In the Company of Men.
Rating: **** [4 out of 4 stars]
Now here is true evil: Cold, unblinking, reptilian. The character Chad in "In the Company of Men" makes the terrorists of the summer thrillers look like boys throwing mud-pies. And for every Chad there is a Howard, a weaker man, ready to go along, lacking the courage to disagree and half intoxicated by the stronger will of the other man. People like this are not so uncommon. Look around you.
The movie takes place in the familiar habitats of the modern corporate male: Hotel corridors, airport "courtesy lounges," corporate cubicles. The men's room is an invaluable refuge for private conversations. We never find out what the corporation makes, but what does it matter? Modern business administration techniques have made the corporate environment so interchangeable that an executive from Pepsi, say, can transfer seamlessly to Apple and apply the same "management philosophy" without missing a beat.
Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) have been assigned for six weeks to a regional office of their company. Waiting for their flight, they talk. Chad is unhappy and angry because he's been dumped by his girlfriend ("The whole fade-out thing"). He proposes a plan: "Say we were to find some girl vulnerable as hell ... " In their new location, they'll select a young woman who doesn't look like she has much of a social life. They'll both shower her with attention--flowers, dinner dates--until she's dizzy, and then, "out comes the rug, both of us dropping her!" Chad explains this plan with the blinkered, formal language of a man whose recreational reading consists of best-selling primers on excellence and wealth. "Life is for the taking--is it not?" he asks. And, "Is that not ideal? To restore a little dignity to our lives?" He hammers his plan home in the airport men's room, while Howard, invisible behind a cubicle door, says he guesses he agrees.
The "girl" they choose for their target turns out to be deaf--a bonus. Her name is Christine (Stacy Edwards). She is pleasant, pretty, articulate; it is easy to understand everything she says, but Chad is cruel as he describes her to Howard: "She's got one of those voices like Flipper. You should hear her going at it, working to put the simplest sounds together." Howard makes a specialty of verbal brutality. Christine is not overwhelmed to be dating two men at once, but she finds it pleasant, and eventually she begins to really like Chad.
"In the Company of Men," directed by Neil LaBute, is a continuing series of revelations, because it isn't simply about this sick joke. Indeed, if the movie were only about what Chad and Howard do to Christine and how she reacts, it would be too easy, a one-note attack on these men as sadistic predators. The movie deals with much more and it cuts deeper, and by the end we see it's about a whole system of values in which men as well as women are victims, and monstrous selfishness is held up as the greatest good.
Environments like the one in this film are poisonous, and many people have to try to survive in them. Men like Chad and Howard are dying inside. Personal advancement is the only meaningful goal. Women and minorities are seen by white males as unfairly advantaged. White males are seen as unfairly advantaged by everyone else.
There is an incredibly painful scene in "In the Company of Men" where Howard tells a young black trainee, "they asked me to recommend someone for the management training program," and then requires the man to humiliate himself in order to show that he qualifies. At first you see the scene as racist. Then you realize Howard and the trainee are both victims of the corporate culture they occupy, in which the power struggle is the only reality. Something forces both of them to stay in the room during that ugly scene--job insecurity.
On a more human level, the story becomes poignant. Both Howard and Chad date Christine. There is an unexpected emotional development. I will not reveal too much. We arrive at the point where we thought the story was leading us, and it keeps on going. There is another chapter. We find a level beneath the other levels. The game was more Machiavellian than we imagined. We thought we were witnessing evil, but now we look on its true face.
What is remarkable is how realistic the story is. We see a character who is depraved, selfish and evil, and he is not a bizarre eccentric, but a product of the system. It is not uncommon to know personally of behavior not unlike Chad's. Most of us, of course, are a little more like Howard, but that is small consolation. "Can't you see?" Howard says. "I'm the good guy!" In other words, I am not as bad as the bad guy, although I am certainly weaker.
Christine survives, because she knows who she is. She is deaf, but less disabled than Howard and Chad, because she can hear on frequencies that their minds and imaginations do not experience. "In the Company of Men" is the kind of bold, uncompromising film that insists on being thought about afterward--talked about, argued about, hated if necessary, but not ignored. "How do you feel right now, deep down inside?" one of the characters asks. The movie asks us the same question.
Here is the scariest horror film of 1997. It revolves around the polluted hearts of two white-collar executives. Chad (Aaron Eckhart), an angry young man, and Howard (Matt Malloy), his mild-mannered friend, are working on a six-week project at a branch office in another city. Since both of them have been rejected by women, Chad convinces his buddy to join him in a vicious scheme whereby they will date and then dump an unsuspecting woman. He chooses Christine (Stacy Edwards), a lonely typist who is hearing impaired. The idea is to inflict on her the pain they have felt. The misogyny of Chad and Howard becomes a brutal weapon.
Written and directed by Neil Labate, this searing film reveals the dark side of corporate culture where gamesmanship, deceit, power trips, and ruthless competition turn individuals into soulless zombies. Chad's paranoia and vulnerability at work lead him to manipulate and humiliate underlings. He even betrays Howard because he wields more authority than he does on their project.
The most telling point of In the Company of Men is that the same attitudes, habits, and amorality that come to the fore on a job are bound to show up in relationships. Very few American movies ever cover these aspects of the work-a-day world. This one does so with convincing clarity and clout.
Rating: *** [3 out of 4 stars]
EXCERPT: "A provocative dissection of human dynamics, Men might just become the gotta-see-it August choice of adventurous filmgoers."
Rating: **** [4 out of 4 stars]
Feeling weak due to their workplace situation and less-than-fulfilling love lives, nondescript executives Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) decide to engage in a sadistic game to help them reaffirm their power as men. During a six-week stint at an out-of-town office, the two simultaneously romance a weak-willed wallflower type just for the thrill of dumping her hard before they head home. Their target? Cristine (Stacy Edwards, nicely understated), a typist who is not only sweet and shy, she's also deaf.
Much ink has already been spilled debating whether or not Neil LaBute's unflinching, fascinating film is misogynistic or, in a roundabout way, feminist. As for me, I'm not entirely sure if it's either of those things or just plain anti-human. Mastermind Chad, played with the perfect mix of sly charm and venom by the terrific Eckhart, certainly hates women, but that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg--he's a sociopath who seems to care for little else but himself. The pain he inflicts on Cristine is considerable but perhaps not as deep as the damage he ultimately does to his hapless collaborator, Howard. And in one highly unsettling scene, Chad humiliates an African-American intern (Jason Dixie) by making him expose his genitals to him. Chad's hateful antics are detestable and at times hard to watch--but, strangely enough, you cannot take your eyes off of the screen.
The same can be said of In the Company of Men in general--tough to watch but absolutely riveting. Especially intriguing--and off-putting--is that a lot of is quite funny in the most pitch black way. I don't what finding humor in the most unsavory of situations says about me, but in terms of LaBute, it means that a first-class filmmaker has arrived on the scene.
Rating: ***** [5 out of 5 stars]
EXCERPT: "Brilliant black comedy - razor sharp, unapologetic stuff."
Rating: **** [4 out of 5 stars]
EXCERPT: "Eerily unflinching film that features three first-rate performances."
There is a great temptation to overpraise smart, genuinely provocative films made on a small budget -- In the Company of Men deserves favor but we have to be careful here.
This is an ugly film, designed to unsettle and offend its audience. It is free to do so because writer and director Neil LaBute wasn't operating under the constraints habitually imposed by major studios. He filmed this movie for an alleged $25,000 -- "alleged" because no movie really gets made for that kind of chump change; in recent years independent filmmakers have learned to poormouthing their production budgets as a kind of guerrilla marketing tool -- in his generic-looking hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind.
It is a kind of parable, the story of two affable-appearing businessmen -- handsome Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and mild Howard (Matt Malloy) -- sent off on a six-week business trip. Both are frustrated by their jobs and -- more to the point -- angry at recently being dumped by women. As they fly to their temporary posting, Chad markes a harrowing proposal that will afford them some revenge on women.
When they arrive at the branch office, they will select some lonely woman who is not used to being pursued. Both of them will court her, smothering her with affection and making her feel loved until the time comes for them to go hone. Then they'll dump her unceremoniously and laugh about it for the rest of their lives.
Howard somewhat reluctantly agrees to the plot; and soon after they arrive Chad stumbles onto a lovely young secretary (Stacy Edwards) who at first seems lost in her own world. When Chad discovers she is actually deaf, Chad decides she is the perfect quarry.
It must be said that LaBute directs like a playwright; his camera angles are conventional and he seems much more interested in the dialogue than the frame. There is a Mamet-like edge to his dialogue, and the actors -- there isn't a bad performance here, despite the semi-pro circumstances surrounding the production -- disappear into their roles. In fact, one has to worry about Eckhart; he plays Chad with such convincing relish that it may be difficult for anyone who seems him in this role to accept him in any part that requires him to be decent or humane. Eckhart comes off like a cross between the comedian Dennis Leary and the Devil.
Chad and Howard are defined by their white shirts and dull ties, and the spaces they move through -- airports, offices and restaurants -- are bland and neutral. Chad and Howard themselves are less real characters than emodiments of a monstrous impulse; Chad is the Fueher and Howard is more banal but no less evil as the good soldier taking orders. It isn't correct to call Chad a misogynist -- he hates everyone -- but Howard's evil is more common. He lacks moral courage.
Edwards' deaf secretary is the victim here, but not even she seems completely human. As it turns out, she becomes complicit in her own downfall. Flattered by the attention from two suitors, she lapses into duplicity.
And while Edwards gives a fine performance -- in real life she hears fine, she "learned" her character's tortured speech patterns for the movie -- her casting is one of the clues that the movie is not as brave as it pretends. Edwards is too lovely, and her problems communicating relatively minor. A more honest movie would not have hedged its bets by casting such a pretty woman in the role -- a truer, more unnerving movie would have made her much more woebegone and pathetic.
In the Company of Men is a hard movie to watch and -- though it has its virtues -- even harder to defend.
Rating: **** [4 out of 5 stars]
EXCERPT: "A no-holds-barred performance by Eckhart. You really want to kill this guy by the time the closing credits roll."
Rating: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 4 stars]
Chad and Howard are a couple of suits from the head office of some nameless corporation. They've been sent on a six-week business trip to a branch office so, as guys will, ever cocky Chad proposes a game to pass the time. Afterall, "Life is for the taking, is it not?" reasons Chad. Although somewhat reluctant, Howard welcomes the idea of some excitement so he agrees to go along.
As the harmless looking trailers for IN THE COMPANY OF MEN argue, this film has no sex, no special effects, and no monsters, only conversation -- so how scary can that be? In the press kit, first-time writer and director Neil LaBute describes the movie thus, "It's a simple story: boys meet girl, boys crush girl, boys giggle."
Like its female counterpart, THE LAST SEDUCTION, the strength of IN THE COMPANY OF MEN is that it never pulls its punches. Movie goers used to Hollywood endings, where bad guys eventually get their due, may find IN THE COMPANY OF MEN disquieting, but there will be few complaints about the quality of the presentation. The acting is superlative, and the imaginative script has minimalist cadence a la David Mamet. The result is at once devastating and compelling.
Bitter white collar workers, Chad and Howard, are indignant about being passed over for promotions and paranoid about the future. Their anger extends to the women in their lives, both of the men having recently been jilted. Chad proposes a scheme whereby they will find an especially vulnerable woman and both of them will romance her. The coup de grace? "One day out goes the rug with us pulling it hard, and Jill comes tumbling after." They will string her along for the full six weeks before administering the final blow.
Aaron Eckhart plays Chad with macho evil and is one of the best screen villains in a long time. His hearty laughter and charming smile glosses over a malevolent nature always lying just below the surface. "Never lose control, that's the key," he advises Howard. And Chad is someone who follows his own advice.
Howard, as the pseudo-innocent who always bows to peer pressure, is played by Matt Malloy. Whereas Eckhart gives his character an alluring likeableness, Malloy makes his such a wimp that his is the easier of the two to despise. Chad masks his devilish behavior with a beguiling nature, but Howard has no such mask. The audience, although not the female victim, can always see through the more transparent Howard. When presented with "the game," Howard goes along even though he admits, "it's way out there." Howard is as unsure as Chad is super-confident, but Howard is quite willing to hurt others to go along with his buddy.
The object of their cruelty is a sweet, deaf woman named Christine, who is a lightning-fast typist and temporary clerical worker in the branch office. Beautiful and svelte Stacy Edwards plays Christine as a big hearted, but shy and unsure woman. Christine has not dated in quite a while and worries that men no longer find her attractive or interesting. While smooth talking her, Chad ridicules her behind her back. He says her voice sounds like Flipper and claims, incorrectly, that she slobbers when she tries to talk.
To press the point that Chad's maliciousness extends to more than women, LaBute includes scenes of Chad disparaging his male coworkers as well. In language most foul, he goes through a picture book of the company's employees telling a room full of men what he thinks of some of them not present. In private he humiliates a black intern so completely that you are sure than the scene will cut before he strips the intern of his self-respect, but as in the rest of the story, Chad never pulls back.
The director has the good sense not to make all of the classic mistakes of most first-timers. He does not try to pack the film with all of his ideas. And thankfully, he avoids shaky handheld cameras and cute angles. Filmed by first-time cinematographer Tony Hettinger almost totally in the office with the actors' faces lit by the glow of desk lamps, the audience's attention is riveted to the screen without needless distractions. Editor Joel Plotch follows the director's minimalist style so that the focus stays on the characters and their conversations.
Chad's depravity knows no bounds, but as the weeks pass, the scheme must unravel. The question is how. Suffice it to say that the intelligent dialog and engrossing story continue to the very last minute.
Studies of evil are by very their nature controversial, but this is a film that demands to be seen. And with three such wonderful performances, it is a film well worth going out of your way to find.
IN THE COMPANY OF MEN runs a fast 1:33. It is rated R for mature themes and some profanity. The show would be acceptable for teenagers if they are mature. For adults, I strongly recommend the picture and give it *** 1/2.
This powerhouse of a film is geared to get under your skin and is not, as most Hollywood films are, made to amuse you and cater to your idea of what a dramatic film is supposed to be like. LaBute's debut film is hard to describe though the plot is simple enough, but this is not a film that depends on plot.
LaBute looks at men through the eyes of successful thirty-ish corporate types and penetrates their real feelings about women, themselves, and their relationships. He gets us to listen in on what they are trying to communicate privately to each other. This is accomplished in the sterile, power driven high tech workplace, where the men who work there make their own rules about what works and roam the sleek corridors of their modern glass offices and hold manly conversations in the immaculately clean bathrooms they feel very comfortable in (a substitute for the proverbial locker room). What comes out of these conversations, to say the least, is disdainful; but, that is not the point LaBute is trying to make, nor does he use these talks solely for shock value. What is taking place is more real than that, and much more frightening. We witness what it takes to be in their company, and we want to puke. We want to say these are freaks or they are not the people we come into daily contact with, or that this is exaggerated; but, what is true to a certain extent, is that these are the regular guys we ordinarily come into contact with. These are the guys cranking out this booming economy, buying condos, living luxurious lifestyles, not worried about the world's problems and the unfortunate. They are the movers and shakers of the business world, some of the ones who are the country's future and present leaders.
Playwright LaBute uses words that are meant to be spiteful and piercing. The tough business guys understand this and can 'talk the talk,' and fight for their place on the corporate ladder with seemingly effortless grace as they constantly watch their backs.
The scene with the black intern (Jason Dixie) is bound to rub some people the wrong way, as it takes us into the strident relationships these business warriors have and adds the racial issue as another dimension to the film's political incorrect stance. The black intern learns how it feels to be humiliated by his boss, Aaron; and, at the end of the lecture he receives, he is reduced to a flunky, getting coffee for the boss, that is after he is told to take down his pants so that Aaron can see if he has balls. Supposedly, he goes along with this arrangement to get into the club, as a secret deal is struck between him and Aaron that will benefit both. We can now be reassured that "the old boy" network will be passed on, even between the races, as the intern is initiated into the business world community.
Aaron along with his college friend, Matt, who is chosen to be the temporary supervisor of the project they are assigned to by their company, are on a six-week business assignment to this city that LaBute chooses not to name.
We are struck by the different personalities of the two--Matt is insecure and geeky while Aaron is handsome and bold. But what they have in common, is what at first seems most important to them: they have struck out and have been rejected by women, and feel a bitterness to them. Aaron is very vocal about this and suggests to Matt that they do something about this that might appear strange to him at first but, when he thinks about it, he will realize that it will give him a way to restore some of his self-esteem by getting even with all females. This is, of course, absurd! But the point of the story is that their life is absurd, so why not get what you want no matter what you have to do to get it. At least, we have the feeling that Aaron understands this.
Aaron suggests they meet a woman who is a loser and they both date her without her knowing that they are doing this and they will treat her as nicely as they can and before they go back to their regular workplace, they will both dump her. Matt is at first put off by this but soon agrees when Aaron comes up with the perfect victim, a deaf typist (Stacy), who is not bad looking but because of her disability which causes her to talk in garbled tones; and, therefore, has lost her sense of self-esteem.
What unfolds is somewhat unconventional for movie lore (though not for the world of plays, from where the director draws his strength (ala Mamet), which has a much richer history of misogynistic characters being the ones you love to hate). What is here unpleasant, shameful and immoral, is played out to the hilt with all the traumas one could expect. I must respectfully say, this film has balls. No matter how politically incorrect and unbelievable the story might be, it still gets our attention and makes us react to it on a visceral level. I think that is because we have all questioned our relationships at one time or another and felt a certain vulnerability, and wonder about how that other person now feels: the one who did harm to us, how is he or she getting on. This film does that to us; it provokes us to look at things that are unpleasant in our lives.
We realize that Aaron wins because he is a charmer, but those not taken in by sharing his deceits would not be taken in by his charm. He is ruthless because he understands the nature of the business he is in and is willing to do what it takes to succeed. But we are not really comfortable with Aaron's aggressiveness and our first reaction is to recoil from him in horror. But I wonder how many Aarons we have met in real-life and didn't recoil from! As for Matt, his insecurities become in many ways too easy for us to identify with. At first, we might tend to be feeling a bit sorry for Matt; but, since his weakness does not prevent him from being sneakily cruel to others, we soon realize that he might even be worst than Aaron who, at least, is following his natural instincts. While the Matts of this world are the humorless types you might have had a morning coffee with and felt you were with someone you didn't quite like but didn't know why, as they seemed nice enough; but, you know instinctively that you can't trust them.
Stacy is the only one in the film that we are supposed to feel for. She is the passive female who is capable of giving unconditional blind love. She is the trophy many an aggressive businessman has won for himself; that is, if they can somehow cover up her handicap (I see "her" as a replacement symbol for the dumb blonde type the boss marries or has an affair with, except in this case she is the beautiful deaf /nice girl).
The three stars are all excellent. Stacy's role might seem to be the most difficult one to pull off because of her portrayal of deafness and vulnerability, and being "the female" in the film. She becomes a representative for all women. But she is resilient, and we are left with the impression that in the long run of things she will come through this embarrassing episode better than the two men. She is the only one who is capable of knowing what love is; that is, because she is the only one who could get a glimmer of what the truth is even after being deceived. One can surmise that Aaron is heading down a long slippery road of manipulations and false senses of security, and that Matt is falling apart because he can't make up his mind about who he is or what he wants to be.
This picture penetrates the masculine soul that feeds on aggressiveness. The film is able to captivate us, because its words have power.
Rating: ** [2 out of 5 stars]
My Advice: Wait for Cable.
What an odd film. The basic synopsis is this--two guys decide that they've had it up to here with the entire female gender and all of their evil scheming ways. Guy #1, Chad (Eckhart), is the one who dreams up the scheme, since his lady (Emily Cline) has packed up and split. Guy #2, Howard (Malloy), is the one who goes along with the scheme, since he and his fiancee have had some distinct difficulties. They decide to pick a woman at random and emotionally destroy her. Enter secretary Christine (Edwards), whose deafness makes her a perfect target in Chad's eyes.
Now let's talk about what works. First of all, the acting between the three principals is all top notch. That goes double for Edwards, who literally convinced me that she was in fact deaf, when in actuality she merely spent mucho tiempo researching her role. Kudos. All around. In fact, LaBute himself gets points for making a tight ensemble piece that gives the chance for all three to shine. Also, he gets points for writing a film that is, well, a lot like how men think. But--and you know there had to be a but, right?
But--that's all you get. Three people and cruelty is being handed around like candy. Period. The film gets caught up in reflecting meanness to the point where...well, what is the point? We should all be nice to each other? Like we need a movie to tell us that, and badly. If you want an interesting film with some dead-on acting, check it out. But otherwise it's a film that simply showcases human cruelty. And don't tell me I didn't get it, cause there was nothing to get.
Rating: ***** 1/2 [5.5 out of 5 stars]
It's possible that we may see no better movie this year than Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men. As disturbing as it is well-made, this low-budget indie is a thoroughly original piece of work. It's a dark, incisive, and funny drama about contemptible behavior, behavior that is so amoral, so despicable, so capricious, and so ordinary that we can't help but recognize its human dimension. It's an evil that's bred in the bone -- this desire to control and to hurt others either for the sheer hell of doing it, or as some kind of displaced payback for perceived injustices -- but it's also an evil that's bred in our culture and is embedded in the corporate work structure. In the Company of Men illustrates and dissects that behavior with the methodological precision of a criminal pathologist. Chad (Eckhart) and Howard (Malloy) are two mid-level corporate managers sent out of town on a six-week assignment. At the outset, Chad proposes a vicious plan, to which Howard readily consents, for the two men to target a susceptible woman for emotional abuse and then hightail it out of town, with the payoff being that they will be able to look back and laugh about it until they are very old men. Christine (Edwards), a deaf temp in the typing pool, becomes their unwitting target. Not 'til near the end of the movie do we discover that the scheme involves more victims than merely Christine. But it also makes clear that the venom fueling the plot is an evil that can't be reduced to simple misogyny or hatred of the handicapped. The film shows us a poison that's sprayed with indiscriminate abandon when some perversion of the survival instinct reacts to all human contact as a threat. What's truly rare about In the Company of Men is the way in which it encourages us to find the likable qualities of these loathsome characters and then refuses to settle the dramatic score by imposing some moral retribution. It requires viewers to make their own peace with the horrors just witnessed (something that may lead some viewers, at least at first glance, to confuse the messengers with the message, but it should soon become apparent even to these viewers that hateful characters in a work of fiction do not automatically serve as proselytizers or recruiting agents). The pared-down visual style of In the Company of Men also perfectly complements the movie's narrative and emotional economy. Shot on a shoestring budget in 11 days in the director's hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, the film's locations all exude the anonymity of Anywhere, USA: airports, hotels, and the stripped-down shell of an office that's in a state of perpetual renovation. So too, Chad and Howard speak so much of the time in a kind of corporate blather, which has the effect of shuffling words around the officeplace in the same rote manner that one shuffles papers around a desk. In the Company of Men's language and its delivery are a very real pleasure to experience, an aspect that's made all the more pointed because of Christine's hearing impairment. Its deftness with language is also a testament to the skill of the actors and the good training of LaBute's background as a playwright. LaBute, however, also seemed to know exactly what he wanted to accomplish once he got a camera in his hands. The visual structure of In the Company of Men is an organic whole, with thoughtfully composed shots and tableaux functioning as the story's backbone. There is absolutely nothing extraneous in LaBute's movie -- one of those lovely confluences of artistic vision and budgetary restrictions. For LaBute, the balancing act seems to have been just one more sprint down the Morality Mile.
Rating: **** [4 out of 4 stars]
In the Company of Men is one of those rarest of rare breeds -- a movie that doesn't just ignore Hollywood conventions, but openly flouts them. The film, which premiered to great critical acclaim at 1997's Sundance Film Festival, initially had trouble obtaining a U.S. distributor (for the record, Sony picked it up). The reason is simple: because of its brutally-direct depiction of certain aspects of the current North American social climate, In the Company of Men is anything but entertaining. It's virtually impossible to sit through this film without suffering bouts of intense discomfort, and therein lies its power.
The picture begins as something much different than what it concludes as, and the metamorphosis occurs so gradually that it only becomes apparent in retrospect. Shortly after In the Company of Men opens, the intent appears to be to center on the conflict between the sexes. Ultimately, however, this only a small piece of the much larger pie into which Neil LaBute's directorial debut slices. In the Company of Men widens its focus to encompass the falseness and gamesmanship that underlies many aspects of everyday human interaction. It's a cynical perspective that's all the more disturbing because it's grounded so deeply in reality. The characters here aren't cardboard cut-out stereotypes -- they're the kind of people you can find anywhere inside or outside of the workplace.
Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) are two very different guys with a great deal in common. They attended the same college, work for the same corporation, and have a history of bad relationships with women. Their combined romantic record reads like a litany of injustices perpetrated on them by females. They have been duped, rejected, neglected, and intentionally misunderstood. Chad, ready to go to war against the entire gender to "restore a little dignity", has a simple, vicious suggestion for revenge. They will find a woman who has trouble getting dates, both take her out, then, after duping her into falling in love with one or both of them, they'll dump her at the same time. Howard is initially reluctant, but Chad talks him into it before locating the perfect target: an attractive-but-deaf typist named Christine (Stacy Edwards), whose disability has caused her self-esteem to erode.
Have you ever seen anyone leap from the top of a skyscraper? Or perhaps watched as two cars collide head-on? The revulsion and horror are indescribable, but the compulsion to look is too great to ignore. No matter how deeply the experience tears at the soul, we can not avert our eyes. It's a base reaction, but that's human nature. Sitting through In the Company of Men is a cleaner, more guilt-free experience, but it's not entirely dissimilar -- much as we dread viewing what must happen, we cannot tear ourselves away. As painful as this film can be, it is never less than engrossing.
The film doesn't follow a linear path; it evolves continually, which is untrue of many lesser motion pictures. At the beginning, everything seems deceptively simple, but there are layers of complexity underlying each move. As the story unfolds, it becomes difficult to discern a genuine action from a duplicitous one, and once-clear motives grow murky. Slowly, however, the truth begins to assert itself, and, for those who really understand what drives these characters, the ending will be inevitable, not surprising.
Much of LaBute's script is about manipulation and deceit, but he's smart enough to show the characters manipulating each other without turning that manipulation on the audience. Nevertheless, because we become so involved in the interaction between these people, it's impossible for us not to be enflamed by what's transpiring, or to hope that justice comes from heaven in the form of a lightning bolt. Part of us wants a deus ex machina resolution; however, LaBute's solution is more true, albeit less cathartic. And, considering the overall impact of In the Company of Men, it's hardly worth mentioning the writer/director's few rookie mistakes (static camera placement, occasionally stilted word choice).
The lead actors, none of whom are well-known, give impressive performances. Aaron Eckhart, who has slightly more camera time than his fellows, brings a surprising depth of humanity to the charming-but-vengeful mastermind of the plan. As Howard, Matt Malloy does a good job emphasizing his character's internal conflict. The best member of the trio, however, is Stacy Edwards, who brings fire, passion, and fragility to Christine, and wins our hearts in the process.
If you want every movie that you see to be Sleepless in Seattle, avoid In the Company of Men. This movie doesn't take prisoners, and "feel good" is a term no one will ever use to describe it. But In the Company of Men deserves high praise because what it does, it does extraordinarily well. Finally, here's a film with the guts to tell this kind of the story without turning it into a fairy tale. It's rare for any motion picture to generate such a profound sense of disquiet, but the path traversed by LaBute's characters is so bold that it's impossible not to be affected.
Rating: [4 out of 5 stars]
This movie's premise, hailed by critics as "daring," is actually the path of least resistance.
In attempting to convince a friend to join me at a screening of "In the Company of Men," I offered this plot summary: "It's about two corporate ladder-climbers who decide to torture a woman in order to reclaim their male power in our politically-correct culture." Her response was indicative of the heart-warming appeal this film offers to most well-adjusted people: "Sorry, but I'm scheduled to spend my evening licking my toilet."
Although the torture is strictly mental, not physical, you'll spend the entire film deciding which of the males deserves the majority of your hatred: Chad (Aaron Eckhart), the frat-boyish instigator who spews venom at everyone he meets, or Howard (Matt Malloy), Chad's dweeby boss whose luck with women has gone decidedly south. To reclaim their maleness, they elect to find a desperate woman, convince her they're both in love with her and then disappear just as things get really serious. On a six-week business trip they find such a woman in Christine (Stacy Edwards), a deaf secretary.
This film is pretty much like an episode of "Friends" gone horribly awry, analogous to Ross, Joey and Chandler spending their half an hour passing out naked pictures of Monica at the local coffee shop. The characters spend an inordinate amount of time standing around and rehashing the minutiae of day-to-day life. They stand on rooftops, in cars, around tables, in offices, and prattle on like drunken Aunt Gabby at a family reunion.
This movie's premise, hailed by critics as "daring," is actually the path of least resistance. Director Neil LaBute spends his two hours idly jabbing pins into the superegos of moviegoers whose sensitivity training has rendered them hypersensitive to such stimuli. Consequently, this movie produces one of two reactions: The intelligent viewer exits the theater insulted by LaBute's simplistic intellectual game; the easily manipulated simpleton spends the whole movie looking to rip the penis off the first alpha male in grabbing range.
Rating: **** 1/2 [4.5 out of 5 stars]
In The Company Of Men is without a doubt one of the most disgusting, most off-putting movies I have seen this year. It is also one of the best.
The film stars Eckhart and Malloy as two white-collars who are sent to a town (we never learn which -- to say it could happen anyplace?) for six weeks. They have both been unceremoniously dumped by their girlfriends and one night Chad (an amazing performance by Eckhart) tosses an idea at Howard (Malloy).
The idea consists of finding an insecure woman (a wallflower type), for both men to romance her, and then dump her. "She'll be reaching for sleeping pills within a week, and we will laugh about this until we are very old men," says Chad.
In the office is a beautiful young woman named Christine, who is deaf and, although seemingly unbelievable, has not had a date in a long time. She's the perfect target for Chad and Howard's hijinks. They start to romance her, but behind her back make fun of her, Chad saying talking with her is "like having a conversation with Flipper." Eventually she begins to fall for Chad, and Howard, in desperation, begins to believe that he has fallen in love with her. Director LaBute makes it clear that he has not really fallen in love with her, rather that he doesn't want to lose to Chad. The last twenty minutes are at once heartbreaking and angering.
This is a low-budget picture, and definitely shows signs of being so. However, rather than detracting from the quality of the picture, it embellishes it: it gives the film an almost documentary-like style, which is very effective and effecting. The main reason to see In The Company Of Men is the performances. Eckhart turns in one of the best performances certainly of this year, and, in my opinion, of the decade. He is even better at conveying malicious evil and charm at the same time than Michael Douglas in Wall Street. Edwards, who, I learned after the film, is not deaf, turns in just as good a performance in a role which requires a lot less. Malloy is fine as the slimy Howard who may or may not enjoy this kind of torture.
The film, now that I think about it, reminds me of a play I read last spring called The Misanthrope by Moliere; the subject is also close to that of the French film Ridicule. I don't know if it is intentional or not, but LaBute almost seems to be borrowing from classic French Restoration comedy. In doing so, he has made a film that we both love and hate. We love it for its accurate depiction of male insensibility, and hate it for that very same reason.
It's opening weekend as I write this, and writer/director Neil LaBute seems to have already had more ink spilled over his first feature than many filmmakers will get over their entire careers. He's crafted an ingenious concept on which to hang a $25,000 film -- two specimens of white-shirted corporate flunky find themselves stuck working on a project in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both men have just come off a bad relationship, and neither is happy about it. Both of them also seem to be projecting their frustrations over their high-tension rat race of a career onto the women in their lives. Since their social life looks to be a black hole for the next six weeks, one of them comes up with the clever idea of having a bit of sport with one of the locals. As a payback for all the crap he's taken from women, Chad (Aaron Eckhart) convinces Howard (Matt Malloy) that he should join him in taking a little vengeance on the opposite gender.
Specifically, he suggests that he and Howard should target some needy woman, preferably one who's disabled in some way, and woo her separately. Once she's grown accustomed to adulation and attention -- and, preferably, has fallen in love with one or both of the men -- they both return to the home office never to be seen again, dumping the poor girl, hard, as they go. "She'll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week, and we'll be laughing about this 'til we're very old men," Chad assures Howard.
Yeah, I know. Funny guy.
When he's not spewing venom, Chad has that handsome sincerity regarded so highly by middle America. He seems gentle and trustworthy, and we're clearly -- a little too clearly, maybe -- meant to be appalled by how quickly he can become very vile indeed. The scenario here actually reminds me mostly of the much-reviled Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho, but with less outrageousness. Chad is nowhere near as far gone as Ellis's character, but the misogyny likely springs from similar roots. And while American Psycho was conceived as an instrument to shock and offend, In the Company of Men bends over backwards to make us understand its thesis.
Specifically, it's very observant where corporate culture is involved, and it suggests that a man's psyche is shaped by the workaday rigors of office life. You don't have to work in an office very long to recognize the vicious, testosterone-fueled sniping that is carried to Mamet-like proportions by In the Company of Men. And it's the Sisyphean struggle to outperform all of the other rats in the maze, the terrible paranoia that your second-in-command is ready to stab you in the back, and the overwhelming pressure to always be one up on your fellow man that Chad is so good at co-opting and turning to his advantage.
Women happen to be convenient scapegoats for male insecurity, but it's pretty clear by the end of the movie that Chad has come to terms with his feelings in that department. Howard, on the other hand, is a more pathetic creation. He's Chad's nominal boss, but he lacks Chad's confidence and charisma. Worse, he somehow allows himself to be sucked up into Howard's cruel prank, and ends up falling for the girl instead of screwing her over.
It's not hard to understand why. As Christine, Stacy Edwards is so attractive and appealing that you hope she wouldn't be in a position to fall for these kinds of moves. But she's also deaf. Her speech, to use Chad's cruel metaphor, is reminiscent of a monologue by the elephant man. And so we must assume that she is exactly as vulnerable as Chad hopes she is. And besides, Chad is, as my girlfriend explained, "the kind of bastard who knows exactly what to say." Howard, on the other hand, never knows quite what to say or do. And as the deception arcs along on its six-week trajectory, Howard begins to look more and more like a chump.
I'm not sure how much control the cameraman has over the eventual look of a $25,000 film, but if this one's bleak, noirish stylistics weren't entirely deliberate, they sure were fortuitous. For me, this movie demonstrates that the essence of the so-called new noir is really the fear of being manipulated. While the old films noir of the 40s and 50s were permeated by expressionistic the-world-is-a-lonely-place angst and a sense of nearly supernatural, moralistic payback, the "neo-noir" cycle zeroes in on those sinking feelings of distrust and haplessness, beginning with William Hurt's schmuck fall guy in Body Heat. And while those films have tended to urge audience identification with the male victim -- Michael Douglas's can't-keep-it-in-his-pants white guy from Fatal Attraction, or the deer-in-the-headlights victim of Linda Fiorentino from The Last Seduction -- In the Company of Men forces identification with the male victimizer(s). In so doing, it turns the gender tables to reflect the widespread attitudes -- sure, you could call it "sexism" -- that still prevail in certain circles.
But to its credit, the film is more complicated than that. In particular, the final shot is an eloquent and hard-hitting depiction of pure impotent/pathetic rage. In the Company of Men is finally a little pat, a little predictable, and perhaps a little restrained by the limitations of its budget. But as I write, it seems to be still unspooling reel after reel in my head. It's not escapism, nor is it at all pleasant. But it's an impressive film, and all the more so for being a debut feature. If this LaBute guy can keep his edge on a bigger budget, he's one to watch.
Rating: **** [4 out of 4 stars]
Alternate rating: A
Note: Some may consider portions of the following text to be spoilers. Be forewarned.
With these three words, director/screenwriter Neil LaBute has crafted an audacious opus of ruthlessness and manipulation unlikely to be surpassed this year in its raw, savage brutality. Certain to litter year-end Top 10 lists across the board, IN THE COMPANY OF MEN cuts straight to the core in its powerful depiction of misanthropy bred by tumultuous anxiety associated with the modern cutthroat corporate workplace -- it's a remarkably auspicious first feature for Mr. LaBute.
Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) are diametric opposites who make for unlikely friends: while Chad is tall, handsome, assertive, superficially charismatic, and confidently authoritative, Howard is short, bookish, insecure, awkward, and rather hapless. However, it is Howard who wields the power in their professional lives; he holds the title of project manager and Chad is his subordinate when the two meet up at the film's outset in an airport courtesy lounge; they've been assigned for six weeks to a Midwestern office of their company. Howard's authority, though, is in title only: it's Chad who is the true leader, and when he proposes a little sport -- to soothe their bruised male egos and as a bit of vindictive payback to the female gender, he suggests that they find somevulnerable and susceptible wallflower that they would both romance, raising her spirits to dizzying heights ... and them dashing them, and her, to pieces by unceremoniously dumping her -- Howard is unable to resist. They find their perfect mark in Christine (Stacy Edwards), a young temp working at the Midwestern branch as a typist who happens to be deaf, and unleash their malevolent plot.
In any list of Top 5 helpful tips to follow at a modern workplace, "Watch your back" would occupy at least three of the entries, and IN THE COMPANY OF MEN shows how the immersion of oneself into an environment of ruthless ambition coupled with a paranoid cutthroat mentality grooms bitterness, spitefulness, and anger. Chad is spawned from this system: he, as they say, knows how to play the game -- on the surface, he's handsome, supremely self-assured, and smoothly knows how to handle every situation -- how to charmingly say exactly what people want to hear, or how put a convincing spin on everything which leaves him in the best light (this naturally requires casting everyone else in the worst light). Chad's a mover, a shaker, a man on the rise -- in terms of corporate America, he's a winner. But behind every handshake and pleasantry exchanged over donuts and coffee before project meetings, one can almost sense the palpable rage and malice emanating from Chad -- bitterness at being passed over for promotion, for getting the dead-end assignments, for failing to receive the recognition he feels is deserved; anger at those who would dare pass him in the race up the corporate ladder, who steal his deserved acclaim, who pose a threat for his advancement. "I hate that prick," Chad says of a co-worker (actually, of many co-workers), and it's not uttered in jest or in a light-hearted vein; he truly, completely means it. To Chad, every co-worker is potential competition for the pay increase or the cushy new promotion, and is consequently an enemy -- one to be greeted warmly, lulled into a false sense of security, and humiliatingly betrayed. It's Darwin's Law to the fullest extent -- survival of the fittest -- and not only is Chad determined to be the one still standing at the end, he's more than happy to be the one to slay off his competitors and gloat as they squirm on their deathbeds. "How does it feel?"
If the competitiveness of the modern workplace creates hate-filled monstrosities like Chad out of the strong-willed, among the weak the pressure-cooker molds men like Howard, whose inherent insecurities, fears, and frustrations are magnified into self-loathing. Howard is not an assertive man, and he clearly hates his impotency in his professional (under his wing, his project is floundering) and personal life (the film opens finding him tending to a bruised ear -- a parting gift from his new ex-girlfriend) -- it's obvious that Howard admires and seeks to emulate Chad's confidence, slickness and suavity; constantly seeking Chad's approval, it's easy to occasionally forget that Howard is the project manager and the one actually in the position of authority. Howard, in short, does not know how to play the game, which is akin to being a bloody slab of meat in a shark-infested pool.
While IN THE COMPANY OF MEN is thunderously powerful and at times the film's unflinching depiction of turpitude borders upon revolting, it yet remains riveting and compulsively watchable, even wickedly funny on many an occasion. Mr. LaBute's incisive and daring screenplay, filled with snappy dialogue, is wonderfully realised by an accomplished trio of performances by the lead actors, and his use of blaring percussive riffs as segueways between the seven separate sections in the highly-structured film, as in Todd Solondz's WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, jolts us and violently propels us forward. Mr. Eckhart's screen debut is nothing short of astonishing -- he's deliciously villainous, an unrestrained embodiment of bile and venom who is incomparably malicious. It's a virtuoso performance which is always utterly convincing, and heralds Mr. Eckhart as a bright new talent. (Either that, or he's *really* like that -- a frightening thought, but in either case Mr. LaBute deserves credit for his casting.) Ms. Edwards is superb as Christine, who proves to be more resilient than anyone could have expected, although her depiction of her character's deafness isn't quite credible and is consequently mildly distracting. Mr. Malloy is also good as Howard, perhaps the most complex character in the film and certainly the one called upon for the greatest emotional range, although he is overshadowed by his castmates.
Many have pegged IN THE COMPANY OF MEN as a film about misogynism, but this isn't a very accurate assessment. While Chad and Howard's game involves crushing the spirits of a vulnerable young woman, Chad doesn't particularly hate women -- no moreso than his hatred of everyone else, at least -- and Howard hates himself far, far more than anyone with XX chromosomes. What Chad understands at the outset to their cruel sport, and what Howard fails to comprehend, is that theirs is an environment where it's kill or be killed. Their malicious sport is an extension of this philosophy, and a means to an end. And as for sweet, innocent Christine, caught in the crossfire? To Chad, she'll merely be a victimized bystander, a casualty of war.
Rating: 8 out of 10
In the Company of Men is a nasty -- but fascinating -- portrait of men behaving VERY badly.
It's specifically about the cruel mind games and sick notions of one young corporate climber named Chad, brilliantly played by charismatic newcomer Aaron Eckhart. The other men in Neil LaBute's film are less than admirable only because they let Chad get away with his tasteless jokes, sexist pranks and racist attitudes.
A daring and highly original low-budget film, In the Company of Men explores the deep-seated anger and mean-spirited reactions of a self-appointed avenging angel. He seeks vengeance for the way his generation has been treated by women, in general, and former girlfriends, in particular.
As Chad tells Howard, his friend and co-worker: "We go along with this pick-up-the-check can't-a-girl-change-her-mind crap, and we can't even tell a joke in the workplace? We need to put our foot down, pronto. Never lose control. That's the key -- that's the total key to the universe."
As the film opens, Chad and Howard (Matt Malloy) are flying away from their home office to work for six weeks at a branch office in a distant city. Enroute, both men complain about how they've recently been ditched by the women in their lives, and how they've had it with the modern equality of women (though they don't put it in such highfalutin words.)
Chad hatches a diabolical scheme: He and Howard will find a vulnerable woman at the out-of-town office who doesn't date much. They'll each ask her out and lavish her with attention over their six-week stay. Just when she begins to think she has a romantic future with one or the other, they'll both abruptly drop her.
"She'll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week, and you and me will laugh about this until we're very old men," Chad gloats. Howard isn't so sure, but he's too lily-livered to argue. He reluctantly agrees to the plan.
And, indeed, that's what the men do. Their victim is Christine (Stacy Edwards), a temp secretary who is attractive and deaf. She's obviously thrilled with the newfound attention, and even begins to fall seriously for Chad.
Though Christine's deafness allows for all sorts of manipulations of language and communication in the script, it also seems an overly blatant attempt to pile on sympathy for the woman.
In the Company of Men obviously seeks to make broad, cynical statements about male attitudes and corporate hollowness as the millennium approaches. This much is clear in its chosen title. I resist and resent, though, any implication that Chad is a "typical" anything, except creep.
Nonetheless, Chad will understandably become the man women love to hate as the film turns up the heat in the battle of the sexes. To me the subject is the mystique and gratification of power. Chad does what he does because he can, and because it gives him dominance over women, his friends AND his co-workers.
Undeniably, LaBute is onto something. Most viewers will deny that we could ever do the despicable things Chad does; but few people can say that in deep dark angry moments they haven't at least thought about some of them.
Thanks to a brilliant script, first-rate performances and lean minimalist direction, In the Company of Men hits us all where it hurts.
Rating: *** [3 out of 4 stars]
This isn't the brutal last word on sexism in corporate America that the Sundance hype made it out to be, but I agree with the SXSW program notes that it is an interesting tale of a crime backfiring on its culprits, a crime committed on the emotional, rather than the physical, level. Two buttoned-down corporate males, while on temporary assignment to a branch office, decide to take revenge for their previous failed relationships by both pretending to fall for a deaf secretary. At the end of the assignment, they will leave, emotionally crushing her. This isn't as uncomfortable to watch as you would think (there are a few scenes that partly dissipate the tension built up in the main story line), but the core of the story is honestly and finely written.
Rating: *** [3 out of 4 stars]
As moviegoers, we've become accustomed to certain rules -- bad behavior is punished, the good guy gets the girl in the end and everyone is happy. Very few movies dare break the formula and fewer still flip the bird to everything we'd expect in a movie. In the Company of Men does, presenting a protagonist who announces his evil plan toward the beginning of the film, carries it out over the next hour or so and then gets away with it in the end. It is not a feel-good movie.
The protagonist, Chad (Aaron Eckhart), is a corporate employee sent to another city for six weeks on a project. During a night of drinking, he convinces his associate and friend Howard (Matt Malloy) to play a game with him. It will grant them both the satisfaction of getting back at the opposite sex for all the cruel breakups, indecipherable behavior and never picking up a check. What they will do is romance the same woman for six weeks, bombard her with attention and affection, then pull the rug out from under her and retreat to their hometown, confidence fully regained.
The plan reeks of pure, heartless evil, which Chad personifies. His social exchanges are all governed by a falsity and ass-kissing most people can't seem to see through, including Howard, when he agrees to the plan. Chad picks a shy office assistant named Christine (Stacy Edwards) because she's deaf and desperate; we can sense this woman's insecurity right off, in the self-conscious way she wears headphones to disguise her hearing. She needs a good man, but falls hard for the wrong one.
Howard, meanwhile, begins his part of the game and takes her out a few times. It's clear before too long that he's taken the predictable romantic comedy road -- intending to scam her but falling in love for real. A studio movie would have had Howard punch out Chad, to cheers from the audience, and embrace Christine as some upbeat pop song played over the end credits. In the Company of Men is no studio movie, and develops very differently. The Hollywood ending would have been more enjoyable, but false, and for once the filmmakers' refusal to compromise has brought us a far more fascinating film.
This is definitely a high-quality, well-thought-out film, but that's what keeps me from loving it. It's too depressing; there's absolutely no satisfaction to be had here. What we do get is characterization that rings painfully true to life -- we all know people like Chad who play everyone for their own cruel purposes. Consider, for example, what he makes his intern do. And we all know gullible people like Howard, who obviously doesn't want to participate in the scheme until he is talked into it by his "friend," and Christine, who becomes a victim because someone else has been hurt in the past. As written and directed by Neil LaBute, In the Company of Men is the ultimate anti-date movie.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Two third-tier businessmen with a history of negative experiences with women, decide to turn their 6-week stay at an out-of-town corporate setting, into an opportunity to play an emotional head game with an unsuspecting woman employee. They both agree to wine her, dine her and romanticize her for the period of their stay, up until the day on which they have to leave, at which time they will both unceremoniously dump her, and laugh about it for years to come.
Interesting, original premise starts off with a slow burn, but eventually challenges you into watching the screen without a cringe, as the actors work their thespian chops, and the script gets more involving as it moves along. I did however find the cinematic style of this film to be quite distracting, as a lot of shots were taken from long-view, and felt too symbolic and impractical. I found myself waiting for the camera to zoom in on the characters, rather than attempting to listen in closer to their far-away conversations. That aside, the three main characters had strong showings, with the character of Chad, as played by Aaron Eckhart, rating the highest as the bastard with the heart of ice. Eckhart looks like he chewed into this part like a rabid dog on a bloody bone.
This movie does not have any other side-stories to offer the viewer, and doesn't even recognize any real secondary characters either. The film is based solely on these three characters and the dysfunctional dynamic of their respective relationships. And despite my patience being tested during the film's initial slow build-up, I did find myself engrossed enough by the end of the film, to warrant a thumbs up in regards to character development. Having said that, I did find some of LaBute's writings manipulative and exaggerated just for the effect on its audience, but mostly interesting to watch. The conclusion left me satisfied to a point, but did not wholly resolve all of my reservations. It also felt a bit set up, and unbelievable in respect to Chad's destiny. All in all, the acting and the dialogue were good, the pace very slow, and the premise very original and brave to tackle. Watch it with your buddies or your loved one, and try to figure out if you know anyone as disgusting as Chad in your life. If you do...you're in trouble!!
Rating: **** [4 out of 4 stars]
The subject of Neil LaBute's debut film, "In The Company of Men" is cruelty, pure and simple. Although one of the central focuses of the film is cruelty between men and women, the film as a whole is not that narrow. It also branches off and shows cruelty between men and other men, between bosses and workers, between business colleagues, and even between those who call themselves friends. In less than two hours, it covers an entire spectrum, and leaves the viewer emotionally drained with its caustic honesty and brutal force of conviction.
At the core of the story are two men, Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy), both rising business executives who have been shipped to their company's Midwest branch for six weeks to complete an important project. When we first meet them, they are sitting in an airport, and their dialogue and body language tells us many things. First of all, Howard is higher up on the business ladder, but Chad is the stronger of the two. Chad, a handsome chain smoker with a wry grin, always dominates the conversation, and it is immediately apparent that Howard is something of a follower.
The opening ten minutes also set up the first major conflict, which is the fact that Chad and Howard have both recently been rejected by women. Chad's live-in girlfriend deserted the house with all the furniture, and Howard's fiancee told him that maybe they should see other people. Both are resentful about these developments, and Chad comes up with a radical idea, which (like most radical ideas) starts off as something of a joke. But the more it's tossed around, the more plausible it becomes. Chad suggests that during their six-week stay, he and Howard should find an emotionally vulnerable girl, date her, build her up, and then emotionally destroy her. "To show that we still have power," he says. "To restore some dignity."
At first, Howard is reluctant. But, like all followers, he eventually caves, and soon he and Chad are setting their targets on Christine (Stacy Edwards), a pretty young temp worker who also happens to be deaf. Her handicap is just icing on the cake for Chad, who immediately sets the plan in the motion. The film's structure breaks it into six segments representing each week of their stay, and it follows Chad and Howard simultaneously dating Christine, leading her along a path of lies and tricks, and then moving in for the kill.
But, as I said before, this "In the Company of Men" is not a one-trick pony. There is much more to it. LaBute understands his characters, and realizes that this plan, no matter how well executed, cannot come off perfectly. Unintentional emotions begin to develop, motives get altered, and characters don't respond as they should. As Shakespeare said about "the best laid plans of mice and men . . ."
While this is going on, LaBute also builds a strong case against the modern executive world and the poison it breeds. He purposely films the office as a bland, cookie-cutter world of white shirts, dark pants, and print ties. There is no life in the office save the backstabbing, cursing, and conniving of the businessmen. Everything is negative force. There is little loyalty except to one's self, and the men in power exploit those below them. This is shown in one particularly disturbing scene where Chad forces a young intern to humiliate himself for no other reason that to exercise his power.
In this way, the film constantly equates power to cruelty. Characters are seen according to their control over those around them. Standing at the top of the heap is Chad, but LaBute does not see this as a positive place to be. As portrayed by Eckhart, Chad is filled to the rim with bile. He is bitter about everything in life, and he doesn't like anyone. He is most dangerous because he is handsome and manipulative. This allows him to cover his true intentions, which are usually driven by the simple motivation to get ahead in life. "Life is for the taking, is it not?" he says.
His character reminds me of a line from a John Mellencamp song: "Do it to your brother 'fore he does it to you." Chad is heartless, but he is also paranoid -- he thinks everyone is out to get him, so in his mind the only way to survive is to get everyone else first. This renders him unable to build true human relationships, and even though he "wins" in the end, he is still tragic because he will forever lead a miserable, unfulfilled life.
Howard, short and balding with glasses and a bad sense of humor, is like a dim shadow of Chad. We understand that he will never really get anywhere in life either, but this is due to different circumstances. Unlike Chad, he's too sensitive to survive in the cutthroat business world, but it's all he's ever known. His inability to exercise the corporate control he has at his fingertips is indicative of his character as a whole. He is the most pathetic person in the film because he lacks either kindness (represented by Christine) or brute strength (represented by Chad) . Even though Christine is the one most at risk here, we feel she will survive; badly damaged, but still alive. We can't say the same for Howard.
Of course, none of this would come off if the three central performances weren't spectacular. Eckhart, Malloy, and Edwards, each representing different aspects of human potential or lack thereof, create a plausible triangle of emotions. Their physical performances are as important as what they say. When Howard fidgets nervously at a business meeting, we sense his weakness. When Chad sits casually in a colleague's office, making sexist remarks and obscene jokes, we understand that he can because no one will stand up to him. And when Christine readily falls into Chad's arms, looking at him with stricken eyes, the knot in our stomachs let us know just how vulnerable and manipulated she is.
"In the Company of Men" is easily one the best films of the year. LaBute's screenplay is a finely crafted testament to the potential for evil and the frailty of human emotions. The film offsets its brutality with black humor and constant human insight that always rings true. Despite out feeble attempts to delude ourselves into thinking Chad and Howard could never exist in real life, their words and actions still haunt us after the credits roll because, deep inside, we know they're real.
Film Type: Black Comedy
Summary: Two business acquaintences, on a temporary out of town assignment, resolve to exact revenge on members of the opposite sex. (1997)
Entertainment Value: C-
Interest Level: C+
Artistic Value: C
Production Value: C
When introducing the film to an audience at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, director Neil LaBute said the film had gotten mixed reactions. He said that men seemed to think it was science fiction, while women looked at it as a documentary. Of course, its neither. Its simply a film about two guys who think that they've been mistreated by women, and that women should pay for their unhappiness. It's a payback game.
For some, of both sexes, the film might serve as a rationalization of their own feelings, similar to those of the three main characters. However, a rationalization does not make for very interesting subject matter. This film got a passing grade because everything was passable. The acting was reasonable, though the directing sometimes distracted. And the story even had something of a just deserved twist at the end. But this one just squeeked by on the low end of my scale.
It has a few moments, but not recommended unless you have some time with nothing else to do.