DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: In the Company of Men

Sunday 23 August 2009

In the Company of Men

In the Company of Men (1997) dir. Neil LaBute
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, Stacey Edwards


Neil La Bute’s feature debut, though made in 1997, expresses the same themes of the prevailing attitude of 1980’s culture –a world of incessant greed, self-indulgence and all around individualistic Darwinian attitudes. It's one of the darkest and most disturbing satires ever made, and while La Bute wants to make you laugh at his two heinous and maniacal creations of man, he also wants you to feel really bad about it.

Chad (Aaron Eckhart) is one of cinema’s most sinister creations. He’s made even more sinister than traditional movie bad guys because he operates within legal boundaries, in a social environment we all walk around in, but with an arsenal of emotional weaponry as dangerous as daggers.

Think of the most despicable thing someone could do to someone else within legal boundaries. Whatever you can think of, it’s part of Chad’s master plan – a plan to exercise his authority and capabilities of a man.

Chad and Howard are a couple of consultants starting a 6 week job for an unknown company in an unknown city. Chad (Eckhart) is good looking, fast talking, charming on the outside but hateful and misogynistic on the inside. His wife has just left him rendering him bitter and in need of revenge. Howard (Malloy) is a follower, bald, meek, shy, but, strangely, has been put in charge of the consulting team. During a heated discussion about their hatred of politically correctness Chad posits a scheme to find a wallflower-type girl, date her from two different angles and then at the same time dump her with as much malice as humanly possible. Why? Because they can. Howard admits it's 'way out there' but gives in to Chad's charming persuasion.

The woman in question becomes Christine (Stacy Edwards) who also happens to be deaf – all the more perfect for them. Indeed both Chad and Howard wine and dine Christine with maximum attention, showering her with compliments and for Chad, eventually sleeping with her. Everything goes according to plan until Howard actually starts falling for her. But of course, if Christine had her choice, Chad is the man for her. And so the reverse starts to happen, through Chad's passive aggressive games Howard becomes emasculated eventually breaking him down to pieces with regret, guilt and seething defeat.

The film works on so many levels, told with as much subtlety and restraint as it is bold and in your face. Chad's schemes run deeper than mere misogyny. As Howard's participation in the game breaks him down Chad is slyly climbs over him and takes his place as leader of the consulting team. By the end, we're never quite sure whether his plan was to break Stacey or Howard himself as an act of corporate ladder climbing. Either way Chad emerges as the devil incarnate, more maniacal than anyone you could think of in the history of cinema.

On the level of independent filmmaking 'In the Company of Men' is an even more remarkable achievement, using his miniscule $35,000 budget to his advantage. With minimal locations and actors, La Bute creates a cold sparseness, a unique tone of isolation and danger. Each scene is shot with a minimum number of camera angles framed with a clever eye for composition complimenting the clinical precision of his sadistic characters. Enjoy.

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