IN THE COMPANY OF MEN is thought-provoking. And, at times, outrageously funny. This black, black comedy stars Aaron Eckhart and Matt Malloy as a pair of junior executives, on six-week assignment at a regional office, where they scheme to seduce and later dump an unsuspecting young woman. The target: a shy, deaf secretary (Stacy Edwards) down the hall. The catch: one of them starts to have feelings for her. Though the lack of camera movement is more than a little tedious--the movie feels like a filmed play--the script is a knowing study of abuse, power, and the illusions of intimacy. Live dangerously and take a date. Written and directed by Neil LaBute.
Rating: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 5 stars]
The sweet nothings with which a man woos a woman are, in Neil LaBute's tremendously gutsy first feature, exactly that: nothing. The lacerating Mr. LaBute envisions a courtship ritual that is pure cruelty, at least on the part of an aggrieved white-collar worker named Chad (Aaron Eckhart). The implicit power politics of his sterile corporate world have made Chad shockingly bitter in ways that this unflinching, sharply written film articulates with brilliant ferocity. Now he wants a victim who can feel his pain.
Chad's brainstorm, which turns "In the Company of Men" into a fascinating, divisive conversation piece, is this: Why not pick out a particularly susceptible woman, then flatter her, hoodwink her and make her suffer? In a chilling monologue that locates the film squarely in Mametland, Chad lays out this plan for a milder-mannered colleague named Howard (Matt Malloy), who like Chad feels that women have hurt him and deserve some payback. Howard is both alarmed and secretly excited by his friend's mega-macho thinking.
The dialogue here is stunningly blunt. Chad outlines his plan, concluding: "And then one day, out goes the rug and us pulling it hard. And Jill, she just comes tumbling after." He smiles to himself when considering the consequences: "Trust me, she'll be reaching for the sleeping pills in a week. And we'll be laughing about this till we are very old men." And he hints at the deep frustration that fuels his anger. When life brings new disappointments, he tells Howard, at least each of the two men will be able to say, "They never got me like we got her."
Mr. LaBute expresses this rage with such critical detachment and coolly stylized exaggeration that it's impossible to mistake "In the Company of Men" for simple bigotry. But like "Kids," though in vastly more astute and verbal fashion, it exaggerates real, recognizable attitudes in a manner that intends to be disturbing.
Mr. LaBute exposes Chad's thoughts without remotely apologizing for them, and he leaves the audience to register real shock at certain points in this cold-blooded story. By far the film's most troubling scene is the one in which Chad tests his power over one of the polite black executives who inhabit the film's office scenes and humiliates this man in the most graphic possible way.
The film is more subtly unnerving as it watches Chad switch gears for the benefit of his prey. He chooses a beautiful deaf woman named Cristine (Stacy Edwards) and he turns on the charm. Having seen him at his most raw, the audience can now watch Chad practicing false flattery ("That's a lovely blouse") and solicitude. ("Did she get the flowers? Ah, terrific. No, I just took up a little collection. It's no big deal.") In this context, Chad's nice-guy manner becomes even more savage than his exposed malice.
The film spans the six-week sojourn that Chad and Howard spend on an undescribed business project out of town. And it follows a very simple structure, watching shifting nuances in the two men's relationship once Chad begins implementing his dirty trick. Mr. LaBute directs this low-budget film with such spareness and precision, using such minimal yet effective backdrops, that in retrospect his color film almost seems to have been in black and white. Its ideas are that stark.
"In the Company of Men" was the official winner of the Film Maker's Trophy for best dramatic feature at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Unofficially, it matched the documentary "Sick: The Life and Death of Robert Flanagan" in generating controversy there, and will now do the same at this year's New Directors/New Films series. "In the Company of Men" will be shown along with "Memorial Day," Daniel Carey's more deadpan, much less brutal vignette about brief, uneasy relationships formed in the aftermath of a car crash, at 9 tonight and at noon tomorrow.
Rating: **** 1/2 [4.5 out of 5 stars]
Yikes! Turning the tables on political correctness, affirmative action, and especially, the feminist movement, never seemed so fun on film! In the Company of Men teaches you that everything you know is wrong and slaps you in the face for enjoying it. This phenomenal gem is, on the surface, a simple tale about two jilted male co-workers, who, on a six-week long business trip, decide to take revenge on all the females of the species by jointly finding a "corn-fed" wallflower, making feel like she's a beauty queen, then dumping her like a sack of bricks. Hard. Chad (Aaron Eckhart) is the smooth one. Howard (Matt Malloy) is a lovable Winnie the Pooh type. Together, they're devastating... until "the game" ends up having unpredictable effects on the both of them, as well as Christine (Stacy Edwards), their deaf victim. Unpredictable and wholly unique, In the Company of Men is a powerful moviegoing experience. Take my advice, and watch it with someone you love.
Rating: 10 out of 10
The two main characters in Neil LaBute's IN THE COMPANY OF MEN -- the best American film to appear this year, and the best film _likely_ to appear -- do some of the most vicious things screen characters have ever done without weapons. Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy), a pair of mid-level corporate drones on a six-week project assingment in their company's Midwestern branch office, decide to find a vulnerable woman they can mutually seduce and abandon as their revenge against all women. Howard berates deaf secretary Christine (Stacy Edwards) for having the audacity to be selective about her romantic partners; Chad forces a male office intern to drop his pants and prove that he has the gonads for the business world, physically as well as metaphorically. You may walk into IN THE COMPANY OF MEN expecting it to be about the cruelty of men towards women. You'll walk out realizing it is about cruelty in every possible permutation.
It is a testimony to LaBute's talent as a storyteller that he allows us to see the damaged humanity beneath the despicable things his characters do. Matt Malloy's Howard, who seems to be the kinder of the two, simply has a more benign pathology. A desperately insecure man recently dumped by his fiancee, Howard longs for the ability to exert power over others yet has no idea how to use it. Though he has no desire to hurt Christine, his interest in her is purely selfish. He merely wants someone so pathetic and so low-status that she would never leave him.
Then there is Chad, a startling creation rendered with creepy nonchalance and savage humor by Aaron Eckhart. It would be easy to read Chad as a simple sociopath; it would also be the least interesting reading. Bubbling beneath his brutality is a profound fear and paranoia, making Chad so convinced that everyone is ready to screw him over that it only makes sense for him to screw everyone else over first. His every action is a pre-emptive first strike of rage -- at women, at his co-workers, at the world -- designed to keep everyone off-balance through the bald-faced exertion of power.
LaBute employs notably static composition throughout IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, the kind which might be written off as the work of a rookie film-maker who hasn't discovered his visual style. I can't imagine a more fitting style for this story. For all their barely-diluted bile, Chad and Howard are essentially creations of their world, a corporate culture of claustrophobic cubicles, water cooler back-stabbing and mundane line-ups at the copy machine. LaBute's shots cage his performers, observing their panicked movements from a distance as though they were zoo animals. There is no room for morality IN THE COMPANY OF MEN; the concept is a luxury for those who still feel human.
IN THE COMPANY OF MEN is caustic enough that it's not always a pleasant experience, but it's hardly like taking medicine, either. LaBute's brilliant script and Eckhart's star-making performance as Chad create some of the year's most hilarious moments, even if the laughter is born of disbelief as frequently as delight. In fact, Chad is so charming that there is bound to be consternation over his portrayal, concern that he could be viewed as a cutthroat role model. How sad if there were even a glimmer of truth to such perceptions. Neil LaBute has unveiled the horror of an environment of gross selfishness turned toxic -- it's Objectivism rendered as psychosis. Watching IN THE COMPANY OF MEN is like watching a car wreck between ethics and primal urges, one from which it'salmost impossible to look away.
Rating: * 1/2 [1.5 out of 4 stars]
White male bashing like you have never seen it before.
Introducing Chad, a thirty-ish white guy who 1) is grossly abusive to a young black subordinate at work, 2) seduces a trusting young woman for no other reason than to take pleasure in the pain she experiences when he tells her he has no interest in her and 3) never misses an opportunity to speak contemptuously of women, especially when he is urinating (the film contains a lot of scenes in men's rooms).
Want more? Chad is also a back-stabbing businessman, and the woman he seduces is disabled. And, if that's not enough, Chad smokes.
What we have here, in other words, is a movie about a loathsome guy with a bad personality whom we are meant to believe is a white male Everyman. But Chad is no more an Everyman than Marla Maples is an Everywoman. He is simply a creep, and an uninteresting one at that.
When at the outset of the film Chad makes a pact with a business buddy to find a woman they can each pursue, then wound by dumping her simultaneously, the perversity of their spirit is almost interesting. But writer/director Neil Labute is much too concerned with lecturing us on the evils of the white male soul to allow the film to come to life. Instead, he gives us scene after static scene in which Chad repeatedly reveals himself to be a mean-spirited misogynist in the course of a longwinded and uninteresting conversation.
What we also have here, in other words, is a movie in which next to nothing happens. See it only if you are having trouble sleeping.
With Aaron Eckhart as Chad, Matt Malloy as his equally small-minded co-conspirator, and Stacy Edwards as their victim, a beautiful young deaf woman whose only flaw is trusting men.
Rating: [Man sitting in chair, clapping: 3 out of 4]
"In the Company of Men" is tersely written and compellingly acted. But its controversial subject matter -- the deliberate degradation of a woman for the sport of it -- may make a lot of viewers so angry that the film's strong points will be disregarded.
If it were less believable, the movie wouldn't evoke such emotions; so in a sense its strengths are working against it.
"Company" starts out like Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" -- but here the two men deep in conversation are colleagues on a plane, and the sinister plan they hatch involves emotional abuse instead of murder. Seeking revenge against the opposite sex for indignities suffered, Chad (Aaron Eck hart, in the Robert Walker role of a sociopath) goads his co-worker Howard (Matt Malloy) into agreeing to date the same woman so they can simultaneously dump her. Chad suggests they find someone "disfigured" so she will be particularly vulnera ble. They find the perfect target: Christine (Stacy Edwards), a deaf secretary in their office. The Hitchcockian twist is that How ard falls for Christine and tries to get out of the pact. But it's too late.
In the great pool of men, there may be a few as despicable as these. But the film's veracity doesn't depend on whether Chad and Howard could really exist, any more than it matters if there really are sociopaths like the one in "Strangers on a Train." What does matter is that writer-director Neil LaBute created characters who, given their motivation, behave in a way that makes perverse sense. Chad in particular uses a chilling logic to make his case for revenge.
The language is unusually rich for a movie, but sometimes seems too literate to be coming out of the mouths of these guys. LaBute ap pears to have been overly influenced by David Mamet, who made the same mistake with his white-collar businessmen in "Glengarry Glen Ross." "In the Company of Men" seems more like a play than a movie. Not much goes on visually, and LaBute has done little to open things up. For instance, the setting is Salt Lake City, but you'd never know it.
The three leads inhabit their roles in the way only unknown actors can. They really seem to become the characters they're playing.
Eckhart is especially strong. He has Chad's swagger down cold. It's a difficult role because it requires two layers of acting. Around the guys, he's coolly manipulative. But around Christine, he has to act loving, which is truly an act because he doesn't mean it.
Edwards makes the deaf Christine heartbreakingly believable. The scene where she apologizes to Howard for dating both him and Chad, although she's hardly the one who has done something wrong, is a real tearjerker. "In the Company of Men" is likely to stay with the viewer long after the lights come on.
Rating: *** [3 out of 5 stars]
EXCERPT: "It's convincingly acted, and writer-director LaBute has a gift for a certain kind of comic-scabrous dialogue as well as a sure idea of what he wants to accomplish..."
Rating: **** [4 out of 4 stars]
What exactly is it supposed to take for someone to go to hell? Is it be evil deeds, or the sadism in evil deeds? If we ignorantly commit evil acts, are we evil? Did Hitler, a human embodiment of evil, know what he was doing was evil? And if not, is it possible that he is not in hell?
These are disturbing questions. Just as disturbing was the character of Chad in Neil LaBute's "In the Company of Men". Even if we answer yes to the above question of hell, and we accept that a man whose deeds were as evil as Hitler's may not be in hell, Chad is still destined for the fiery place. No, his deeds are not as bad. But his soul is much worse.
By now, you're thinking that I'm talking rubbish, that I've exaggerated. See "In the Company of Men". A description of Chad may unsettle you, but may still leave you unprepared for the real thing. Despite the fact that you probably know guys like him.
"In the Company of Men" takes place in the modern corporate environment. Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and his buddy Howard (Matt Malloy) are on an assignment in an out-of-town company office for six weeks. Waiting for their flight they talk of how they are tired of rejections by women, their women's attitudes towards them, their women's treatment of them. Chad, whose manner in out-of-work conversation is that of someone forever telling a joke, concocts a scheme to humiliate a woman. He convinces Howard that it will be something they can always fall back on and laugh about, no matter how badly women hurt them. Howard agrees, intrigued, but even if he wasn't interested he may have agreed -- he's too weak to easily say no to his friend.
The two do not plan to do something funny at all, though. They do not want to teach a lesson to a woman who thinks she's queen of the world. Their plot is more sinister. They will both woo a woman who has obviously given up on steady (if any) dating ("The more deformed the better," Chad proposes), seduce her, make her feel special. They will then dump her and leave town. Chad sounds real enthusiastic. "Trust me, she'll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week!"
The pair's chosen victim is Christine (Stacy Edwards), a deaf secretary in the office building they will work in during the trip. Christine is pleasant, a brilliant typist, pretty, with a beautiful smile. She speaks fine, too, but Chad relishes the affected notes of her voice, making jokes about it for three or four non-stop minutes, at first forgivably, then crueller and crueller until the audience is pushed ad nauseam. "Pathetic retard... she's got one of those voices like Flipper!", he carries on and on.
We never find out much about the actual details of Christine's personality, or what makes her tick. We do know that she must be an interesting person, though, because Howard falls in love with her, and at one point even Chad reveals that he almost has a soft spot for her.
It is obvious why Christine likes Howard. He does seem quite sincere. His nervousness seems like a character aspect to Christine, rather than the fact he is anxious about the plot being put into practice. To us, it is hard to know why she doesn't see through Chad, he has such an obvious phoney appearance. But then we realise that the giveaway is in his tone of voice, which, of course, she can't hear. The lips she reads are that of a very handsome man who is ready to spend time with her, flatter her, send her flowers and laugh with her mother. She can't believe her luck, and she's not about to question its authenticity.
When the deception is revealed she literally doesn't believe it, and screams the thought off. When it is confirmed, LaBute lets the camera stay on her and on her and on her, so alone. Feel the pain.
The real strength of the film is its skill in creating Chad. For the most part of the film, he just seems like a cruel misogynist who likes to show off his macho detachment to sensitivity, but his last scene with Christine reveals how brutal he is. His last scene with Howard shoves pure evil in our face with a terrifying, horrifying, sickening twist that is absolutely unbelievable. It takes a mask off of Chad, the mask that makes him look human -- which he couldn't be.
Aaron Eckhart makes Chad his own very well, successfully conveying the man's charming exterior as a cold deception. The final revelation of evil does not seem phoney under this actor. Matt Malloy is also convincing as Howard. His body language is so right, as a man who begins to feel more and more uneasy with his best friend. I have no idea if Stacy Edwards, the actress who plays Christine, is deaf or not, but she plays the disability convincingly and also manages to gain our sympathy for more important reasons.
The director's own screenplay is wound up tightly for reasons already hinted at, but it also captures the atmosphere of the modern workplace without becoming obsessed with it. We never find out exactly what kind of company Chad and Howard work for, but it seems real nonetheless.
The cinematography, full of dark blues and greys, captures the metallic feeling of the scenery. The thumping music is at first used to make the film energetic, but finally changes in its effect -- pounding at us, ringing in our ears, making sure we cannot forget -- as if we could! The editing draws us in with strange curiosity before the shattering finale.
LaBute's film is not easy to watch, deal with or understand. But its effect is unmistakable. As his drums still bang at us, far out of the cinema, we realise what kind of amazing cinematic power LaBute has, and hopefully will use again. "In the Company of Men" is one of those movies which reminds us what cinematic power is.
Rating: 80 out of 100
It's rare for a film where nobody dies and there's virtually no physical violence - barely even of a hint of it - to inspire so much upset on the part of viewers.
In the Company of Men, director Neil LaBute's first feature, accomplishes this, impressing many and angering more than a few along the way. This is a powerfully disturbing film about sexism, cruelty and the price you pay for making a pact with the devil.
Chad (Aaron Eckhart) is a young executive, macho to the hilt and fed up with the way women are ruining his world. He's smart, cut-throat, deceptive and mean. His motto is, "Never lose control."
Howard (Matt Malloy) is a co-worker and old college chum of Chad's. He's a bumbler who's feeling burned by his last relationship, and he's just malleable enough to go along with Chad.
And there's Christine (Stacy Edwards), a hearing-impaired young woman who has the misfortune to work in the office that Chad and Howard have been sent to for a six week project. She's their target - the planned victim of a cruel manipulation.
These three dominate In the Company of Men. Except for one outrageous scene where Chad humiliates a young office worker, no other characters are significant.
Chad's plan was to find a vulnerable woman. He and Howard would each start a relationship with her. Since they were only in town for six weeks, they could go all out, and then simultaneously dump her. The purpose: simply to hurt her and rebuild their male 'dignity.'
This is a slim, tightly wound film. It's about one man's hatred, another's stupidity and complicity, and a woman who's in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In the Company of Men is not easy to sit through. It's a brutally honest portrayal of the hatred that lies within some of us. It's disturbing, powerful and worthwhile.
Rating: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 4 stars]
Pain. In the Company of Men is the exploration of the amount of pain and mental anguish one human can purposefully cause another. It may sound like a horrible thing to watch, and at times it is. But there is a creepy fascination that holds you throughout the film, and rivets your attention to the screen.
The film follows the exploits of two businessmen: Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Maloy). The pair has been sent to a remote office for a six-week project, but along the way, they conduct a project of their own. Each man has recently been dumped by their latest girlfriend, and are fed up with women in general. Chad proposes an evil plot: during the next six weeks, they will find the most pathetic and vulnerable woman they can. Each man will court and woo her, and after she's starting to feel good about life and herself, both men will dump her hard. "She'll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week," Chad laughs.
Howard reluctantly agrees, and the two men set out to find their victim. They don't have to look far. Newly employed in their remote office is Christine (Stacy Edwards), a deaf employee who's pretty, but painfuly shy. The two men descend upon her like vultures to a carcass.
Chad is the prime evildoer, manipulating everyone around him, because he can. His charm and wit quickly seduces the surprised Christine. His prodding and cajoleing keeps Howard in line and committed to their deal.
Howard, on the other hand, is not cut out for this. He's a nebbishy worrier who somehow got put in charge of the business' latest project. His pact with Chad only adds to the complication and frustration of his life. Yet, he proceeds. He awkwardly courts Christine, ashamed at himself, but never revealing the ruse.
In the Company of men is at times sexist, racist, mysogynistic, misanthropic, and unapoligetic. It is so brazenly anti-PC that it is a given that some camps will dismiss the film offhand. Those willing to stick it out, however, will not be disappointed. The film is painful to watch at times, but too compelling not to.
The central storyline of In the Company of Men is so arresting, that its other subplots, and even its ending, suffer by comparison. The conflicts between Chad and the interns being groomed for management seems particularly distracting. And the final twist of the film lacks the punch that it should, simply because you're completely numb from the film's proceeding shocks.
The film never explains why Chad and Howard do the things they do, never simplifying it down into an easy-to-digest reason. Could it be the loss of identity in the corporate culture? Undiagnosed sociopathic tendencies? Or, merely that they are men? The reason is never stated, and could be any, all, or none of these, and the film is stronger for not revealing it. As it stands, the film paints a chilling portrait of evil, and any attempt to diagnose it would simply limit its scope, and thus its effectiveness.
Director Neil LaBute has crafted an intense drama (with bleak black moments of humor). It is designed to evoke strong emotions, but, love it or hate it, the action on the screen in thoroughly entrancing, and never boring.
Rating: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 4 stars]
Antiwomen plot satire or misogyny?
Two men decide to woo and dump a vulnerable woman in Neil LaBute's debut feature, In the Company of Men, which forces filmgoers to pass their own judgment.
A MODEST proposal: See In the Company of Men in the company of someone of the opposite sex, the more intimately connected the better. Immediately afterward, repair to your local coffee shop to discuss at length. Expect a wild divergence of opinion. Prepare for the conversation to grow heated. If, after prolonged debate, the two of you can arrive at a consensus, a genuine meeting of the minds, then rush to the altar or repledge your troth, because yours is a menage made in heaven.
Rating: ***** [5 out of 5 stars]
Pros: Neil LaBute's dialogue and screenplay.
Cons: Neil LaBute's direction (Excluding the final shot)
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot
If you thought you knew what some men were really thinking, really feeling, and really doing, you're in for a little surprise.
The most talked about film this year (1997) has no graphic sex, no physical violence, no natural disasters, nothing but harmless conversation.
You heard right, a punch is never thrown, a breast is never shown. And although this anti-chick flick has low production values, a static camera, and a nonexistent score, In the Company of Men has something that few films nowadays offer, brilliantly stark dialogue. I'm talking confabulation franker than most David Mamet works. I'm talking about a biting misogynist satire that made the 1998 film adaptation of David Rabe's Hurlyburly look tame in comparison.
I'm preaching in favor of a film that has the single greatest misogynist villain ever committed to celluloid, Chad Piercewell (Aaron Eckhart). This is a guy who says, "Hey Howard, what's the difference between a golf ball and a G-spot? I'll spend twenty minutes looking for a golf ball." This is a guy who says, "...I don't trust anything that bleeds for a week and doesn't die."
I'm talking about the man with the plan that's P.O.'ed because of two recent grave injustices bestowed upon himself and his friend Howard (Matt Malloy), who he's known since college. About a month ago, Suzanne, a bleached blond who'd been living with Chad for four years, left him and took everything, "Left me a futon and my poster of American Gigolo." Howard had his own problem. Melanie was his fiancee until she started the "gotta see other people, set up and that whole routine." So now we have two soulless corporate yuppies who need to "restore a little dignity" to their lives.
And Chad comes up with an ingenious scheme for the six-week business trip of theirs, "...Say we were to find some gal... And, I mean, this person is just vulnerable as hell... young thing, wallflower type, whatever. More like, disfigured in some way. But just some woman who is pretty sure that life, and I mean, a full, healthy, sexual life, romance, stuff like that, is just lost to her forever. Anyhow, we take a girl that type... And we both hit her... small talk, a dinner date, flowers... and we just do it. You and me. Upping the ante all the time... and then one day, out goes the rug and us pulling it hard. And Jill, she just comes tumbling after."
Basically, Chad wants to "hurt somebody" to boost the male ego. And after telling Howard a hilarious sexist joke that gets him to reluctantly agree to his game plan, Chad goes in search of their victim and finds her in an attractive, deaf secretary named Christine (Stacy Edwards). The game begins...
What ensues are several acts of manipulation, deceit, tragedies, and near tragedies in this feel-good romance that Neil LaBute calls a "cinematic inkblot test." An accurate description considering that depending on the viewer, this film might be a mordacious commentary on the battle of the sexes (Me), or it might just be "discomfiting... humdrum, and distasteful" (Leonard Maltin.)
In the film's press kit, Neil LaBute describes In The Company of Men in this manner, "It's a simple story: boys meet girl, boys crush girl, boys giggle." However, the final part of that statement isn't the whole truth. When I watched the inevitable of this film, I thought it was akin to watching the murders in Heavenly Creatures or Sling Blade, the bus accident in The Sweet Hereafter, or Lester's death in American Beauty. I knew the scenes were coming, the disasters were waiting to happen, yet when they came, I still dropped my jaw in shock and disbelief.
In the end, it is revealed that Neil LaBute isn't the auteur of an unspeakably misogynistic film, but one of a film about persicacious business tactics. The resolution given for this film is a dark moral, a happy ending with a twist if you will. At the end of In The Company of Men, we see one life ruined, one premeditatedly better, and one almost complacently surviving. Like Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche said in Twilight of the Idols, "Wass mich nicht umbringt, macht mich staerker."
How can A MAN operate in an antiseptic atmosphere of new sexless office politics and bloodless young newcomers "not old enough to wipe"? If first-time writer/director Neil LaBute's characters had their way, cruelty, sarcasm and deception that never-misses-a-beat would rule the day; the usual. Only more of it. Taking place in corporate nowheresland, ITCOM starts on a dare. Two college buddies/co-corporate execs -- vicious but charismatic Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and round-faced, mannerly Howard (Matt Malloy) -- head to an office for a six-week run. Chad leads a savage conversation. Young punks are after their jobs, women are bitches only after everything they can get. And it'll never get better. The only thing left is to "hurt someone" as an insurance policy of sorts. Both must find one truly susceptible woman with zero esteem, "handicapped if possible," and romance her simultaneously. Flowers, movies, phone calls to mom -- all done slowly. And then she must be discarded. Hard. Life is bad but at least they'll "laugh until we're very old men" about their trick. They find an attractive, deaf temp, Christine (Stacy Edwards), and woo her. Both men, while being sickeningly sweet (you almost forget the game), rise to their own level of scumminess in their rush to manipulate and destroy, all along offering up horrific chunks of corporate racism and backstabbing chatter. Filmed tightly and with steady theater-esque settings and lighting, LaBute's tightly wound nastiness depends wholly upon his actors. Eckhart plays Chad with an icy chill, his dead eyes and steady voice laughingly and electrically alive only while spewing the detritus of his soul. His sturdy jaw and tight cheekbones make him the most charmingly mean-spirited villain since Hannibal Lecter. Malloy, with his cherubically smarmy concern and cooing romantic notions (sure, he falls for Christine, but that doesn't stop him from hurting her), takes soul-less inspiration to his own insipid point of no return before becoming a pawn. The film has some minor problems: it's too stagey, and the ending is subtle to the point of being unsatisfying (at the very least you want a head to get chopped off). But with its nasty verbal dynamics firmly in place and perfect casting, this Company's stock is way up.
Realizzato in sei settimane di lavorazione con un piccolissimo budget ed accolto da ottime critiche ed un buon successo di pubblico in terra d'America, Nella Società Degli Uomini, presentato nel corso del 1997 al Sundance Film Festival ed al Festival di Cannes, inserisce il classico triangolo sentimentale nello spietato ambiente di una grande azienda e lo fa cambiandone radicalmente i connotati.
Di formazione teatrale, il regista Neil LaBute, qui al suo esordio cinematografico, sceglie di collocare volutamente l'azione in uno spazio indefinito. In che città ci troviamo? in che epoca? tutto questo per lui ha ben poca importanza, non avendo il mondo delle grandi aziende americane subito notevoli mutamenti nel corso degli anni: le camicie sono sempre bianche, i vestiti sempre scuri, "solo le cravatte degli uomini d'affari possono essere cambiate nel tempo"! E' però evidente quanto gli anni ottanta, caratterizzati dal boom economico, siano ormai lontani e come la giusta collocazione non possa che essere quella del decennio in cui viviamo, gli anni novanta, gli anni della crisi. I protagonisti del film di LaBute sono si degli uomini in carriera, yuppies, arrivisti, ma più che lottare per conquistare il potere sono spinti dalla paura di poterlo perdere.
Chad, l'affascinante Aaron Eckhart al suo primo ruolo da protagonista, e Howard (Matt Malloy) sono due "colletti bianchi" in viaggio d'affari, inviati dalla loro azienda a trascorrere le successive sei settimane presso una sede secondaria in fase di ristrutturazione. Abbandonati dalle rispettive fidanzate ed insoddisfatti della propria vita lavorativa, i due meditano vendetta e sarà Chad a stabilire il piano d'azione: trovare una ragazza, la più indifesa, la meno abituata a piacere agli uomini, corteggiarla a turno, farla illudere, convincerla della sincerità del loro amore e poi, all'improvviso, farle scoprire la verità, abbandonarla alle sue lacrime e riderne per gli anni a venire.
Vittima designata è Christine (Stacy Edwards), una ragazza sorda, dattilografa nel loro ufficio. Quale migliore bersaglio per due uomini come loro? Chi più di lei potrebbe essere distante dall'equilibrio creatosi fra Chad e Howard? Fiori, cenette romantiche, dichiarazioni d'amore; tutto procede come stabilito, ma l'accordo fra i due "amici" mostra ben presto i propri limiti e se Howard, personaggio molto discutibile e meschino, che reca in sè la rabbia dell'americano medio, ne esce sconfitto, il bel Chad potrà continuare a coltivare impunemente il proprio desiderio di potere e di controllo su tutto ciò che lo circonda. Perchè Chad è tanto dolce da risultare sempre credibile, e nei meccanismi di una grande società nella quale falsità, ipocrisia ed arroganza sono le migliori armi per emergere, il suo personaggio non può che risultare eternamente vincente.
Nella Società Degli Uomini è un film crudele che non lascia spazio alla speranza e che, privo com'è del benchè minimo finale consolatorio, proprio da tale sfida, dalla provocazione in ciò insita, trae la propria forza. Può non entusiasmare, nel suo minimalismo, può non affascinare, nella sua glacialità, ma il nostro mondo è anche questo e Neil LaBute riesce perfettamente nel proprio intento: interessare lo spettatore senza fornirgli alcuna chiave di lettura, farlo riflettere sollevando problemi piuttosto che dando risposte, e la camera fissa, i lunghi piani sequenza, il totale disinteresse verso il montaggio non fanno altro che obbligare il pubblico ad una maggiore attenzione a quanto viene descritto: dialoghi in evidenza, quindi, e nessuna distrazione.
Rating: ***** [5 out of 5 stars]
If there were ever such a thing as the opposite of a "chick flick," In the Company of Men would be it. Working with a mere budget of US $25,000 yet achieving the filmmakers' trophy from the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, this is truly an independent and very daring drama fueled by the desire to showcase exactly how destructive people can be.
Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) are two corporate businessmen who have been mucked around with by women a few too many times. One night in a bar room they decide that in order to reek revenge on women in general, they will target a vulnerable lady, take advantage of her and break her heart. "She'll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week," Chad says to Howard, "And you and me will laugh about this until we're very old men."
Soon after their arrival in an unnamed town, where they spend 6 weeks working out business affairs, Chad meets a charming and beautiful deaf woman named Suzanne (Stacey Edwards). He immediately picks her out as a perfect target, and both guys overwhelm the young lady by dating her and giving much needed attention. Suzanne begins to fall for Chad, and feel sorry for Howard.
What becomes of this platter of charm, emotional power and verbal violence is really quite extraordinary. In the Company of Men shows more than anything else that the power and dexterity of the spoken word is back, and is very much alive in independent films. As Aaron Eckhart said during an interview last year: "It's not that Hollywood can't do it, I just don't think they can trust it."
Newcomer director Neil LaBute has shown astonishing skill in creating what should be known as the best film to slip past the realms of mainstream cinema since last years Sling Blade. It's dangerously powerful, impeccably acted, sharply written and so corporately controversial that it may be simply too overwhelming for some audiences.
The integrity, and the skill, that is so shrewdly evident all throughout means that it will not be quickly forgotten... and I know it will lurk in the dark alleys of my mind whenever I see a couple together on the silver screen again.
Enjoy it on its entertaining merits -- there are plenty of them - but beware: its riveting, disturbing stuff. And it's utterly brilliant.
By now anyone who is really into movies has heard of in the company of men. If not, here's the basic premise. Two guys, Chad and Howard (Aaron Eckhart, on the right, and Matt Malloy) are tired of women treating them like crap, so Chad makes a plan to destroy a random woman. The two of them are supposed to go on a business trip for 6 weeks, and in that time they'll pick out a girl, both of them will wine and dine her, make her feel real special, then out of nowhere, dump her and take off. To make the game even more fun, Chad decides they should pick someone who has a disability, something so that the person probably hasn't had a date in a while. Well, as luck would have it, when they start at their jobs, a deaf women named Christine (Stacy Edwards) is working there as a typist, and the game begins. I won't tell you how it turns out, it's worth it to find out for yourselves. The big uproar about this movie was the treatment this poor woman gets, and the lack of sympathy she gets from the guys. Supposedly men love the movie and women hate it. I didn't see what the big hubbub was about. It was a well made movie, considering it was made for what I hear was about $25,000. The actors were excellent, especially Edwards. She's not deaf in real life, but she played the part perfectly. LaBute, who directed and wrote the movie, does a fine job in his debut. It is a hard movie to take at times, the guys put the woman through a lot, but it's not as rough as I thought it would be. The hype was that these guys showed no compassion at all, but there was a scene in a diner where the two guys were having lunch that took the edge off a little. They made themselves seem a little vulnerable at that point, so the rest of the movie I was wondering if they would be able to go on with the game at all. Overall I thought the movie was good, but it certainly didn't live up to all the hype. A good job for a low budget independant.
Rating: *** 1/2 [3.5 out of 4 stars]
He paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: "How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?"
Winston thought. "By making him suffer," he said.
"Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own?"
- George Orwell, 1984
Every year, approximately three dozen low-budget movies looking for cheap word-of-mouth will claim in their print advertising to be "the year's most controversial film!" Like all such assertions ("the year's funniest comedy!" "the summer's most exciting thrill ride!" "this week's least irritating rehash of stale B-movie conventions updated for the '90s with nonstop profanity and pointless pop culture references!"), this is totally unverifiable, these things being subjective; still, I'd be willing to bet that In the Company of Men, Neil LaBute's striking, caustic debut feature, is the title's rightful owner for 1997. Even though the film created a considerable stir at Sundance, no distributor initially wanted to touch it; Miramax's Harvey Weinstein reportedly turned it down because he feared that women would loathe it, and that a People vs. Larry Flynt-style backlash might ensue. This week's Entertainment Weekly includes a feature story entitled (on the issue's cover, anyway) "Why We're Fighting Over In the Company of Men." The film doesn't seem to me to be inspiring the same rabid love-it-or-hate-it responses that, say, Crash did earlier in the year -- even those who are troubled by its ideology tend to respect it as art -- but I'd guess that many of the post-film discussions that began on 1 August, the day it opened in New York and Los Angeles, are still in progress. (Hell, my friend Chris and I are still intermittently arguing about Blue Velvet, eleven years later.)
Trouble is, In the Company of Men is creating controversy largely because many people don't seem to understand it. The same folks who soberly reported two years ago that Todd Haynes' Safe was a drama about environmental illness (it wasn't) are now animatedly arguing about LaBute's movie, with some accusing it of misogyny, others of misandry (that's "hatred of men" to those of you who don't regularly "enrich your word power"; and yes, I did have to go look it up). Both factions are equally wrongheaded -- the correct charge is misanthropy. In the Company of Men is not, as it superficially purports to be, a film about gender relations, or about the often predatory nature of what our society defines as masculinity, though it makes cogent observations about both subjects. It is a film about power. It concerns the XY population only incidentally; upper-class white men are its province because upper-class white men currently control most of the world's resources. A roughly similar dynamic to the one LaBute employs here can be found in George Cukor's superficially playful film of The Women, for example, in which no men appear at all. Power is relative...and power, as we all know, corrupts. LaBute tells us nothing we don't already know; what's bracing about his film is how baldly he tells us what we so desperately choose to forget or ignore.
Hmm. I seem to be drifting into thesis mode, don't I? Let's see if I can't lighten up just a bit, for the benefit of those for whom summer is supposed to be a respite from academia.
So what happens in the movie is this: two corporate drones, Chad and Howard by name, fly to an unspecified city to do unspecified work for the unspecified company for which they toil. Both of them have recently been dumped by their respective girlfriends, and both are feeling ill-used by women generally. Chad (Aaron Eckhart), the bolder and more charismatic of the two, proposes a plan: while they're in town, they'll find a needy, damaged, exquisitely sensitive woman; separately woo her; shower her with affection and attention; bolster her sagging ego; and then, once their six-week tour of duty is complete, unceremoniously dump her. "She'll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week," enthuses Chad, in a line of dialogue quoted by every single critic who's written about the film to date (hey, who am I to break a streak?), "and you and I will be laughing about this until we are very old men." Chad's tone is preposterously casual, as if he were suggesting that he and Howard test-drive a lot of cars despite having no intention of actually buying one, and Howard (Matt Molloy), the meeker and nerdier of the pair (and Chad's superior in the company), hesitantly agrees to participate in the scheme, apparently swayed as much by Chad's matter-of-fact tone as by his own frustrations and insecurities.
What follows, with a few important exceptions, is fairly predictable. I immediately guessed, for instance, that one or both of the men would grow to care for Christine (Stacy Edwards), the deaf secretary they choose as their victim, and I was correct. What I did not anticipate, however, was that the plot described above, which is repulsively fascinating in its own right, essentially amounts to misdirection. LaBute does something both canny and brazen: he tells you right up front what the film is ostensibly about, then litters the background of virtually every scene with hints as to what the film is really about. Watching it a second time was revelatory, because things that seemed like clever filler the first time around took on a profound significance when viewed through a slightly modified lens of awareness. Again, I don't intend to imply that LaBute isn't interested in Chad and Howard's sadistic little game, or in its consequences; nor do I mean for you to ignore the plot while scanning the borders of the frame for possible clues. But people who walk out of the theater arguing about whether he's saying thishere or thatthere about guys or gals simply weren't paying close attention. To its credit, In the Company of Men isn't nearly that simplistic.
Of the three central performances, Eckhart's is the stunner -- a virtuoso, nightmarish illustration of Hannah Arendt's notion of the banality of evil. This may sound silly, but I think Eckhart deserves an Oscar nomination just for speaking Chad's lines without cracking up; I doubt that I would have been able to keep a straight face no matter how many takes I might have been given, and as Company was reportedly shot in just eleven days, I can't imagine that the phrase "that was fine, but let's do one more just to see what happens" was often heard on the set. What's more, Eckhart manages to suggest with admirable subtlety that Chad might be falling for Christine (LaBute's terrific script deserves a lot of the credit as well, of course); a lesser actor would have been tempted to overplay Chad's occasional halfhearted compliments and wistful remarks, but Eckhart wisely opts never to vary the even-keeled tone of his performance, demonstrating limited range (which is what would scare most actors) but superb control and understanding. Malloy, in a more complex and demanding role, is nearly as good, though he whiffs one of his big moments (his final scene with Chad), diluting the power of the film's climax with thoroughly competent work that didn't send my heart into my mouth as it ought to have. Edwards, meanwhile, isn't given much to do -- the film's conceit demands that Christine be a goodhearted wallflower, and hence something of a dullard -- but skillfully handles the physical demands of playing a character who's been deaf since early childhood...so convincing is she that I assumed Edwards was really deaf, which she is not. She's perhaps a bit too pretty for the role -- it's hard to believe that she'd have any trouble getting dates, disability or no -- but that's such a common fault in even the most independent of movies that I tend to automatically overlook it nowadays.
Asked about his influences in an interview in the current Village Voice, LaBute rattles off half a dozen names, none of which is David Mamet. This strikes me as a bit disingenuous, since In the Company of Men fairly oozes Mamet, not merely in its staccato macho dialogue but also in its carefully static, neo-Eisensteinian compositions; LaBute seems to have studied Mamet the film director as well as Mamet the playwright (a smart move, for my money, though Mamet-as-filmmaker has at least as many detractors as proponents). Nor is he afraid to use bald theatrical devices: a plot twist in the final few minutes is revealedprecisely as it would be revealed onstage, and yet is no less effective on celluloid. It takes a supremely confident first-timer to make a choice like that, without worrying about being accused of theatricality (especially in a film as wall-to-wall talky as this one), and LaBute, who had never made so much as a short before, appears to be a natural. Seeing the film a second time, after an interval of about four months, I was sorely tempted to upgrade its rating to a full four stars; only its familiarity -- what I described in my initial capsule review as its Mamet-rewrites-Les liaisons dangereuses feel (LaBute also cites Restoration comedy as a major influence, and while Laclos' 1782 novel doesn't technically belong in that category, it's in the aesthetic ballpark) -- held me back. For all of his evident intelligence, confidence, and skill, I don't get the impression that LaBute has quite found his own voice yet. When he does, I suspect that four stars may well seem like too few.
In the Company of Men. This blistering social commentary from debut writer-director Neil LaBute, shot for a mere $25,000 in 11 days, has been psychologically scarring audiences since its premiere earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it promptly picked up the Filmmakers Trophy. And it's no wonder considering LaBute's plot about two guys who simultaneously romance a girl with the intent of dumping her a few weeks later--just because they can get away with it.
In the opening scene set at an airport, two 30-something marketing mavens, handsome Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and his longtime college buddy Howard (Matt Malloy), are heading to an unnamed city for six weeks to toil in one of their firm's branch offices. Since both have been recently burned in relationships with the opposite sex (Chad claims his ex took everything but his American Gigolo poster, then opines, "The bitch even took the frame off it!"), Chad proposes some therapeutic after-hours payback with the aforementioned female-hating scheme, telling the nebbish Howard that after they're through crushing this woman, "she'll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week, and you and me, we'll laugh about this until we're very old men."
Chad finds the perfect candidate for the inhumane humiliation: Christine (terrifically underplayed by Stacy Edwards), a deaf typist who is unaware of Chad and Howard's friendship, but enjoys the idea that two different men are taking an interest in her. LaBute then breaks up his episodic film into succeeding weeks to detail the increasingly sadistic situation, with one flourish: Howard begins madly falling in love with Christine, and is unsure of how he can turn around these misogynist mind games so that he can emerge a winner and still get the girl.
In the Company of Men was named after a 1989 essay by David Mamet, and it's easy to see that writer's influence on LaBute's pitch-black comedy of disrespect, with Men's virulent verbosity and workplace power plays often reminiscent of Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Yet LaBute's truly angry film has a bigger target than just its central conceit of feminist bashing: Much like Billy Wilder's The Apartment, LaBute is concerned with how everyday business dealings ultimately affects the ways people behave, of how corporate barracudas can never really change once the power ties come off.
That's shown in an early moment when an airport waitress innocently brings the boys a pitcher of beer, to which Chad hurls the insult, "Do we look like frat boys to you?" Chad, of course, is supposed to represent the villain that audiences will loathe, and he's played by Eckhart as a kind of Mephistophelean jock who's aware of his own slipping corporate status--he fears the young turks nipping at his heels--but still manages to project a smug sense of supreme power. That's evident in Men's most shocking scene, when Chad demands a black colleague to "Show me your balls" to prove this new employee's worth in the cutthroat world of business--yet it also shows, beyond Chad's deep racism and even his intense hatred for his own sex, the incredible sense of dehumanization that goes on in today's boardrooms.
Yet most interestingly, while audiences will identify with Howard's plight, they'll likely end up hating him even more than Chad--if only because he's decent enough to implicitly understand his wrongdoing. LaBute wisely doesn't show the initial date between Chad and Christine, which leads to a postmortem in which Chad gleefully describes that her speech patterns sound like Flipper the dolphin, so that the on-screen relationship between Howard and Christine is allowed to carefully blossom. (An expert lip reader, Christine reminds Howard, "Just remember: I can't hear you when you're lying.") But Howard becomes increasingly more pathetic as the one-sided romance progresses (he even learns sign language), as he is unaware that Christine is really enamored with the caddish Chad. When Howard ultimately confesses his sins ("Can't you see I'm the good guy?"), his sense of moral revulsion comes much too late in the game to save himself.
Ruefully hilarious, lacerating in its unflinching depiction of men and women at work, and climaxed with a stunning visual--one character's silent scream at the camera--that caps this movie like a bottletop, In the Company of Men goes far beyond its initial misogynist conceit to nail both sexes with its corrosive cinema. And stylized minimalist LaBute ably leads enraged viewers along the merry way--because he can get away with it, too.
Widely discussed as a provocative shot in the war between men and women, it is instead a sharply etched study of male rage that clings long after it's over, a tenacious barnacle attached to our peaceful selves.
You may well choke on the bile generated by "In the Company of Men." Widely discussed as a provocative shot in the war between men and women, it is instead a sharply etched study of male rage that clings long after it's over, a tenacious barnacle attached to our peaceful selves.
Chad (Aaron Ekhart, who may not be safe walking the streets after this role) and Howard (Matt Malloy) are imprisoned on assignment for their corporation in the ugly boredom of airports, hotel rooms, and corporate cubicles that are their sentence, not their choice. In undefined rage at the superiors who have reduced him to some sort of mid-level competition among beetles, Chad devises a game that will be a symbolic victory over his bosses and an actual one over women in general.
Chad enlists the weasly Howard in his vengeful game: with a salesman's fabricated charm, they will seduce a woman-- not just for sex, but for love; then they will dump her and walk away. Exhilarated by the prospect of this clever betrayal, Chad chooses Christine (Stacy Edwards), a lovely secretary whose deafness, ironically, leaves her handicapped in this war game whose weapons are the cruelties of the spoken word.
Chad attacks life with the emotional viciousness that is the easiest tool available to a man who was born hollowed out, as if by a melon spoon, and doomed to live in bitterness at the petty parameters of his life. He is mean, rotten to his empty core. Ruthlessly competitive, he bullies anyone on a lower rung of his ladder, unable to reach the ones who control him from above. Christine, at the very moment she needs reassurance, will be easy prey.
The Chads of our contemporary world have been silenced, on the surface, by the contemporary value system that demands men try to hide their disdain for women. The real resonance here for women may well be the dark suspicion that most men do not take them seriously on any level.
In eleven days and for $25,000, 34-year-old playwright Neil LaBute has made a movie that pours gasoline on the fire of women's bitterness toward a common form of male cruelty. Without a drop of physical abuse, LaBute uses words to humiliate. It's cruelty the old-fashioned way.
Mr. LaBute refuses absolutely to redeem his protagonists; getting what they deserve might send us out into the night with hope. You may think you are simply watching a vastly unpleasant movie, but just try to shake it when you leave. That may not be art, but it's power.
In this case, a woman so easily crushed is the stand-in for the corporation that has crushed mid-level men by controlling every detail of their lives. Mr. LaBute cleverly leaves the company undefined, an amorphous symbol of corporate humiliation. They may not know it, but Chad and Howard are raging at the bankruptcy of their souls.
IN THE COMPANY OF MEN made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival because, in a year plagued by BROTHERS McMULLEN-style, earnestly shallow Gen-X angst pictures, it seemed to be actually ABOUT something. It angered people, started arguments outside the theater, riled things up. It ignited a spark of excitement in what otherwise has been a disappointing year for independent film. Having endured my share of the hype, I waited calmly for MEN to reach the hinterlands wherein I reside, and then checked in to see what all the fuss was about. Does MEN live up to its press? Well, yes it does. And it may make you think twice before you consider dating anyone your office.
For the uninitiated, newcomers Aaron Eckhart and Matt Malloy play Chad and Howard, two corporate drones who are dispatched by their nameless company to a remote branch office for a six week assignment. Chad and Howard are archetypes, examples of which you can no doubt find in your own place of business. Chad is the blond golden boy, genetically engineered for success, the natural charmer who seems to glide effortlessly up the corporate ladder. Howard is Chad's boss, but he is weaker of will, the clumsy practitioner of office politics who has achieved his position through dogged persistence rather than raw talent. We first meet them awaiting their flight in a drab airport lounge. There Chad suggests a scheme worthy of a Shakespearean villain: he and Howard will find a vulnerable single woman at the branch office, woo her simultaneously, win her love, and then dump her. The reason? Both men have recently been dumped themselves, and Chad sees an easy route to revenge against the fairer sex. "It'll restore a little dignity to our lives," he says.
Howard, helpless against the force of Chad's will, agrees to the plan. They quickly spot their prey in the form of Christine (Stacy Edwards), a fragile deaf woman working as a temp. Chad moves in for the kill, flashing his golden boy smile, plying Christine with lunch, then flowers, then dinner. Howard follows suit, though his efforts are in contrast ham-handed and desperate. Flattered to have the attention of two eligible men, Christine dates them both. You can guess which one she falls for. Soon a tragic lovers' triangle develops: Christine loves Chad, Chad loves himself, and Howard loves Christine on the grounds that, since she's handicapped and shy, she just might be wretched and lonely enough to settle for him. Adult social interaction never really progresses beyond the level of junior high, does it?
In Chad, writer/director LaBute and actor Eckhart have created one of the most chilling monsters ever committed to film-Hannibal Lector may eat human flesh, but Chad is an eater of souls. His evil is as subtle as a viper's, and as easy as his smile. We watch in stunned disbelief as he back-stabs coworkers, humiliates his subordinates, and works his deadly venom into Christine's heart. His character would be a joke if he wasn't so chillingly real- all of us have worked with a Chad, and some of us may be him. He's the guy who takes your job and then laughs at you for your weakness. If one of his co-workers should happen to go postal and walk into the office with a bag full of handguns, he had best have his escape route clearly in mind. Politics is his game, and the modern cubicle-filled office is his playground.
MEN wears the guise of a black comedy, but it functions best as allegory. The most controversial moment in the film happens when Chad humiliates a black temp by asking him how badly he wants to succeed in the company, then forces him to prove it in a manner I won't describe. The scene is charged with racism and fraught with peril. Could it happen in the real world? Probably not. Taken as allegory, however, it is representative of the treatment of the meek by the powerful in all facets of society. Maybe it's just the English major in me, but Chad, in his motiveless cruelty towards Christine and his careful manipulation of Howard, can be seen as a symbol of unbridled capitalism, of greed without conscience. The entire film is a metaphor for social Darwinism- only the strong will survive.
The marvel of LaBute's multi-layered script is that it can disturb each member of its audience in an entirely different way. But does the film work as entertainment? Its darned funny in spots, particularly in the men's room scenes, which demonstrate the lengths to which guys will go to hold a conversation while engaged in the most basic of bodily functions. It works less well as drama, since by necessity the characters in an allegory tend to be flat ciphers. Stacy Edwards gives a measured dignity to Christine, and succeeds in making us care for her, but by the end of the film we still know nothing about her. Likewise, Chad and Howard are simply the sum of their actions. By the end of the film you'll feel as if you've met a genuine monster in Chad; perhaps we can also classify MEN as a horror film. Certainly those expecting a conventional Hollywood resolution to the story will walk away disappointed. But the picture is often mesmerizing, and the script is a work of fine craftsmanship, which makes it well worth your time. Like all good films, it offers a myriad of parallels to the outside world. While watching Chad in his moment of triumph, I couldn't help but think that Bill Gates must have felt the same sort of cold, merciless satisfaction when he finally stuck it to Steve Jobs. There may be a little bit of Chad in all of us, but some of us have taken Chad-ness to the level of art.
There's something so intoxicatingly nasty about Neil LaBute's In The Company Of Men that you can't help admiring it. In this age of political correctness, even villains seem to conform to imposed boundaries of evil. The exhilarating thing about In The Company Of Men is its ability to break loose of those boundaries, to only make you aware of the self-imposed restrictions in the other films at the very moment it breaks free of them, and reaches meaner, more spiteful depths than you ever thought possible. And if its execution is sometimes a bit shaky, and the acting on occasion a bit suspect, you cannot help but admire the audacity of this effort, as it dissects with brutal humour and vicious insight the exploits of a pair of misogynists in their efforts to wreak revenge on the sex which seems intent on destroying them.
Spurned by their respective partners, Chad (Aaron Eckhart, from the recent Erin Brockovich) and Howard (Matt Molloy) decide during a six week business jaunt to play a game on one woman for the duration of their stay in this new, unnamed city. The object is to win her affections with kindness and love and at the end of the six weeks, brutally break her heart, an entertainment they see as payback for the injuries they have suffered at the hands of other women. It will be something, says Chad, that they can laugh about when they're "very old men". But we know we're in dangerous, uncharted territory when Chad finds and chooses their victim. His glee over the discovery of the innocent Christine (Stacy Edwards) is compounded by the fact that she is also profoundly deaf -- and the emotional torture of a woman can apparently only be more pleasurable if the woman is also disabled. What follows is both fascinating and completely horrific - at bit like watching a car crash - as the innocent Christine falls for their game, and the more sensitive Howard, driven by shame and affection, decides to change the rules.
There is plenty here set to offend -- and offend it does. What's so effective about this film is our pleasure in being offended, of witnessing something so morally reprehensible. The illicit enjoyment of watching sex or the bloodiest violence in film has fallen into the mundane -- we need to see more graphic images to capture the same pleasure, because the more we see, the less it titillates. What LaBute offers us in this film is somehow an amalgam of all these pleasures in the most illicit way possible. You will not witness explicit sex or violence in this film, but the horrific fun in watching unfold the lies and deceit employed by these men to the most nefarious end, evokes the same subversive feeling, the same guilty pleasure as seeing flesh caressed or cut. Their actions are appalling, but the mere audacity of this director to showcase it earns kudos.
Although LaBute offers us Christine as the sacrifice, you know that what he's showing us is not necessarily misogynist -- his characters are, but the film is not. The conclusion is not a soft one by any means, but of the characters, Christine perhaps proves to be the strongest, the most resilient, the most mature of them all. The men ultimately prove far less admirable. For Chad, women serve a purpose; they exist for sexual gratification and little else, so when avenues to this purpose are severed, then revenge is deemed acceptable. This revenge is not one aimed at a specific target -- it couldn't be his woman that's the problem (and by implication, a problem specifically with him), it's women as a whole, as an entire gender. As revenge, violence and abuse are far too base, too obvious. Courtesy, kindness and respect are far greater weapons, and inflict more harm when these 'truths' are exposed as falsehoods. So like Iago in Othello, he spins webs and adopts false faces to suit his end. Chad is charismatic, dynamic, a great talker, you believe what he says, yet LaBute shows us his ability to lie and deceive, even to those that appear to be friends and colleagues. Howard is not nearly as strong as his partner in crime, but because of his weakness of spirit he is drawn into the game. And in these two men, LaBute shows us the corporate male -- you're either the leader, the organiser, the planner, or you're the follower, the one who goes along to get along, drawn to those that can act independently. Howard's reticence over the plan for Christine at least redeems men a little in this film, but he's so weak with both Chad and Christine, that it's hard to muster up much admiration for him. But you don't see this film looking for role models or people to admire. The men are both heartless in their own ways, weak and unstable in their own ways, and you can't help but also feel frustrated by the innocent, gullible Christine. Segmented into weeks (title cards flash up to the sounds of screaming, discordant jazz) LaBute shows the execution of their plan step by step, and the incremental progress of their strategies encourages a delicious suspense and a growing sense of frustration and outrage.
LaBute's film is in some ways reminiscent of the films of Whit Stillman -- his script possesses a highly polished, literate style to it. Extraneous noise inhabits all his scenes; people talk in real locations over the roar of the city. It's distracting, certainly, but it also offers an eerie vacuum in which these ogres operate -- the sleek monochromatic lines of the corporate offices and toilets lend an icy, emotionless timbre to the film, which also aims its guns at the corporate world and the power struggles within it. The formal, carefully centred framing of the protagonists also accentuates this film's remote heart. Eckhart is completely convincing as the duplicitous, vicious charmer Chad, whilst Stacy Edwards is a little less so as Christine. Matt Molloy is granted the most complex character; whilst Chad and Christine are clear polar opposites, Howard inhabits the uneasy, unstable middle ground and the processes and changes he undergoes during the course of the film are compelling and fascinating.
So whilst you can hardly claim In The Company Of Men is great fun, it offers such audacious characters, such an horrifically compelling premise that you cannot help but be drawn in. Howard's plea of "Listen! Listen to me!" will resonate far longer than you might expect. These are people who suffer because they haven't listened in the past or aren't listening now. But the audience cannot help but pay attention. This is a powerful, beautifully executed film, full of fascinating characters and layers and layers of material worthy of discussion and argument. There is something totally compelling about the lives of the truly amoral, the truly power hungry, the truly vicious. And unlike the monsters of the horror genre, these people could walk amongst you. You hope men like these don't exist, but the power of LaBute's film is that by its conclusion, you actually believe they probably do.
"Sincerity and insincerity appear the same."
I wish I could recall who said that. It kept coming back to me while I was watching In the Company of Men, a compelling, brutal new film by writer/director Neil LaBute. The premise is simple: Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) are two 30-something businessmen who've been assigned to spend 6 weeks at their company's branch office in some anonymous Midwestern city. As they're travelling to their destination, they share recent experiences about women who've jilted them. Their sense of humiliation, betrayal, impotence, and lack of power lead them to formulate a plan. They'll choose a woman, someone who looks like she doesn't get many dates, and inundate her with attention, flowers, romantic dinners, make her feel wonderful, ("She'll be wearing makeup again!") and then at the end of the 6 weeks, they'll dump her.
The object of their cruelty is a deaf secretary named Christine (Stacy Edwards), a new typing pool employee. To watch these men in action, full of macho and lies, struggling in a corporate world where they're only as good as the last person they screwed over, is a profound and ugly commentary on 90s society. This movie gives rise to a host of moral questions and issues...how can people be expected to live moral lives and care about their fellow human beings when the rewards in the business world go to the person (usually a man) who is the most cruel, cunning and uncaring? How does a human being avoid transferring the values of the corporate world to his personal life?
On a more personal level, every line of "In the Company of Men" rings true. The language used, the strategies for building up and then destroying the luckless Christine, the shockingly simple explanation at the end...it's more frightening than any sci-fi movie, any horror movie, because we recognize these men . We recognize the cruelty of their actions, the anger and rage that motivates their behavior, the horrendous joy of wielding power, the backlash of resentment against women.
I struggled with the deafness device, although it's a more subtle metaphor than if she was, say, blind. We all know women who are deaf to the reality of how their husbands, bosses, boyfriends are treating them. They are willing victims. Christine's deafness doubles her victimhood, makes her an even more sympathetic heroine than she would have been had she been, say, merely unattractive.
Without giving away too much, I particularly hail the part of the movie during which Chad explains his reason for perpetrating this evil on Christine. Three simple words...three words we've all heard or thought many times...three words that justify and dismiss our inhumanity to each other..."cuz I could." It's the shock of realization that we've all used that line as an excuse for some cruelty or other, that makes this movie so horrifying.
In the Company of Men is probably the best movie of 1997 so far. It raises serious and important questions about the issues that are truly a part of everyone's life today...relationships, work, values, how and why our culture functions, and how and why it is falling apart.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Let's not mince words. In the Company of Men is a raw, viceral, unsettling film.
There are glimpses of genius on both sides of the camera too rarely seen in American films these days. Men is the story of a cruel, unconscionable joke.
Chad and Howard are a couple of big-city executives on assignment in a small town. They've come to set up a new branch office. It's a tedious job they consider far beneath their expertise and worth.
Chad (Aaron Eckhart) proposes a bit of fun in the form of a contest.
He and Howard (Matt Malloy) will zero in on the most vulnerable woman in the office. They'll pretend to vie for her affections, only to drop her at the last moment before they fly the coop. Their prey is Christine (Stacy Edwards), a shy hearing-impared temp.
Writer/director Neil LaBute has taken a cue from Shakespeare, who created villains as evil and as beyond redemption as Chad.
The audience is in on the scheme from its inception. In a creepy opening monologue, Chad explains not only the game but all the rules to Howard. This makes everything Chad and Howard do to Christine all the more contemptible.
Chad is as sterile as the corporate world that bred his snug envy.
He is a man who revels in degrading and manipulating others. This is demonstrated in the film's most unnerving scene in which Chad degrades and humiliates a sincere young African-American junior executive.
In The Company of Men has at least three shocking twists that should leave the audience gasping if not completely nauseous for their collective gullibility.
Eckhart is a true find. He seduces a camera with the same ease his character seduces women and co-workers.
Malloy makes Howard a pitiful dupe, while Edwards brings amazing sensitivity and humanity to Christine. She is victimized but not simply a victim.
In the Company of Men is as difficult to forget as it is to watch.
It is this year's equivalent of Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade, and, come Oscar time, it too should find itself with much-deserved nominations for writing and acting.
Rating: 4 out of 5
In The Company Of Men is the emotional equivalent to a bath in battery acid -- and that's a good thing in this particular case. I recommend total immersion, just not on a first date.
Out of the negative energy that etches itself so indelibly on your body and brain -- this is a visceral experience -- the film is a provocative life lesson about how some men use and abuse women for their own amusement.
Written and directed by Neil LaBute, In The Company Of Men tells the harrowing tale of two thirtysomething businessmen who are dispatched by their company to head up an out-of-town project for six weeks in an unnamed Midwest U.S. city.
Chad (played with icy resolve by Aaron Eckhart) is the catalyst, an emotional brute whose psychology is openly nihilistic. He uses his matinee idol looks to seduce women in his private life and his insensitivity to manipulate and sabotage men in his business life. He declares openly his loathing of people.
Howard (Matt Malloy) is a pathetic loser who thinks he is Chad's best friend, a relationship that started in school. He heads up the work project and trusts Chad. He is dumpy and balding and angry over being abandoned by his fiancee. His hero-worship of Chad, and his envy of his friend's prowess with women, leads Howard to agree to participate in a sadistic game Chad proposes.
Each of these company men will try to romance the same woman for the six weeks and then brutally dump her -- for the sheer enjoyment of inflicting pain. Chad chooses a temp secretary (Stacy Edwards) who happens to be deaf and is often too shy to reveal her monotone speaking voice. In other words, at least in Chad's fevered brain, here is the perfect victim.
Men chronicles with machinegun precision the six weeks in the game, revealing each of the men to be a monster in completely different ways. The film catalogues the pain the female victim must endure to win her freedom from tyranny and eek out a shred of personal dignity.
Impressively, because it is so sophisticated in the writing and story construction, In The Company Of Men is a first film. This is an auspicious debut. LaBute is a 34-year-old independent American writer-director who had carved out a career in U.S. regional theatre. Based on how he galvanizes audiences with this film, he has already carved out a new niche.
Men is superbly orchestrated on screen, for such a low-budget piece. Each in the no-name starring cast of Eckhard, Malloy and Edwards is excellent in convincing us to suspend disbelief.
The film feels so real it hurts. Claustrophobic in its limited settings and emotionally disturbing, the film is as gritty as a documentary, not the fiction feature it is. Which gives its message all the more savage impact.