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Two junior executives on a six week business trip, both of whom have been recently hurt by women, devise a horrible plan to get even with women for their past hurts: They intend to find, romance, and then dump a vulnerable woman. They choose Cristine, and for a while all goes according to plan. However, it soon becomes clear that things are not as simple as they think. Written by
Corporate America can be a very cruel place. The constant attention towards competition, survival of the fittest, and determination towards top performance can easily drive the sanest employee into an early stage of insanity. Thus, due to these pressures, employees are constantly found in a heated battle for the top spot or the illusive management position. Many will step directly onto your abdomen to ensure a promotion or pay increase. This form of random competition in Corporate America is very rare to capture, much less on film, but famed director Neil LaBute did a bit of the impossible. LaBute took the pressures of competition in Corporate America and camouflaged them using some stereotypes linked to "men" in the workplace. While some will argue that LaBute is doing nothing but exploiting male sexism/egoism and only built a stronger "glass ceiling" for women, I saw this completely different. Much like others, In the Company of Men initially enraged me due to the harsh treatment and depiction of women in the workplace, but then it occurred to me, that isn't what LaBute wants to show. As I watched this film a second time, I saw the real reason that LaBute created this picture. He wanted, and successfully accomplished, to show that you have to be smart both in your personal and business life if you want to succeed in this demolishing corporate world.
LaBute's approach to this ingenious subject reminded me of how Soderbergh used "sex" to debunk his story in sex, lies, and videotape. From the opening scene, we think we know what this movie is going to be about. We think we understand that this is just going to be another "dark" comedy about how cruel the corporate world can be to women, but wildly LaBute (like Soderbergh) will pull the hypothetical wool over your eyes if you are not careful. This is not a movie about sexism (while it is used quite often to hide the real truth), but instead the power of manipulation, the power of emotion, and the ability to use your friends to reach the top. This is the ultimate betrayal film. After watching this film, I read some reviews that discussed how viewers hated LaBute for doing what he did to Christine, and that made me a bit angry. I too was disturbed by Eckhart's performance, but by being upset about what happened to Christine, you miss the truth behind this film. When I finished watching this movie, I was more upset with LaBute for what he did to Howard (Matt Malloy) than with Christine.
How did this dramatic change occur? How could a viewer feel more sympathy for Howard than with the weeping Christine? LaBute has this amazing ability to cast believable actors that mold themselves well within their roles. Matt Malloy plays the perfect ying to Aaron Eckhart's yang. The two could not be closer to polar opposites, but the chemistry between them keeps us connected and glued to the screen. Their relationship reminded me of every Hollywood movie where the popular jock is great friends with the insecure geek. Malloy and Eckhart's relationship reminded me of the frat boy who happens to be a friend with the computer nerd. There is no initial understanding of why these two are friends or why they have anything in common. Sure, they went to the same college, but does that constitute life-long friendship? I believe from the beginning of this film, and possibly further into the pre-text, Eckhart has Malloy on a plan. We don't see the plan initially, but when it comes into light at the end, it hits us deep within our gut, giving us more pain than the Christine incident. How did LaBute set this up so well? Again, I state, Malloy and Eckhart. These two were methodical, malicious, and very close to perfection with their characters. We believed them. They sold us on themselves, which needed to happen for LaBute to make his point. Stacy Edwards is decent, but honestly LaBute could have had anyone in that role and we would have bought it. Why? Again, Malloy and Eckhart.
LaBute did not just give us impassioned characters with devoted actors, but he also gave us an amazing story. He used the power of language to give us our opening, plot, downfall, climax, and twisty ending. It is not often in Hollywood that you see this technique used. It takes a combination of both a great (and engrossing) story with sublime characters. We already know that we had the characters, but what about the story made it worth watching over and over and over again. Having seen American Psycho several times, I felt like LaBute had read Bret Easton Ellis' novel over and over. He embodied the spirit and insanity of corporate America nearly as well as American Psycho director Mary Harron did. The pacing was tight, the six weeks seemed to fly by because we were glued to the results. LaBute kept us glued to the screen by shocking us with sexist remarks, macho thinking, and corporate taboos. Then, when he thought that we were not paying attention, he gave us the ending of a lifetime. The writing for this film was quick, powerful, and thought provoking, which nearly symbolizes this film. LaBute should have won an Oscar for this powerful and intelligent piece of cinema.
Overall, I thought this film was vile, belittling, and grotesquely unsettling which is why I cannot wait to add it to my collection. LaBute proves to us once again why he is a master behind the camera as well as a commander with his pen. I read a comment that stated that Eckhart's Chad is the epitome of a villain, and I could not agree more. Neil LaBute has given us his first in a very long line of challenging, yet beautiful, cinema.
Grade: ***** out of *****
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