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DVD Review: In The Company of Men
Posted by O. R. Polk, Jr. on May 28, 2002, 08:26
In The Company of Men
Written and directed by Neil LaBute
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Stacy Edwards and Matt Malloy
Rated R, 97 min.
In The Company of Men (winner of the Filmmaker’s Trophy at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival) is a movie that consists of three memorable firsts. First, it is the directorial debut of playwright Neil LaBute (Your Friends & Neighbors, Nurse Betty) who also penned the screenplay. After viewing it, you will certainly be slack-jawed in disbelief at many things, but one of them will be that what you just witnessed was the work of a first-time director. And the fact that the man behind the scathing dialogue is a Mormon.
The second: this is the feature film acting debut of Aaron Eckhart (Erin Brockovich, Thursday). That is definitely a feat you will marvel at considering how well (almost too well) Eckhart brings his character, Chad, to life. As you read further and you discover exactly what type of human being (and I use that term loosely) Chad is, you’ll also gain an understanding as to why it was such a monumental task for an inexperienced thespian to tackle the part. Kudos to BYU alum Eckhart for such a superb job and to LaBute for having the faith in him to do it in the first place. Perhaps we should all just thank the fates that LaBute was on a shoestring indie budget ($25,000 and thus, couldn’t afford big names) and that he and Eckhart were already college buddies.
Lastly, this will probably be the first and last time you see a movie as unnerving and unrepentant as In The Company of Men.
“Circle the date on this one, big guy. We keep playing 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? There’s gonna be hell to pay down the line. No doubt about it. We need to put our foot down pronto.” - Chad
It all begins in an airport courtesy lounge. The mild-mannered pushover, Howard (Matt Malloy), has apparently been the victim of some miscommunication and gotten himself slapped on the ear by a female passerby for asking her the time. (“What did you ask her: what time is it or you got the time? There’s a crucial difference,” says his friend, Chad.) This event sparks a fire within his travelling companion and co-worker, the handsome, cleft-chinned and charismatic Chad (Aaron Eckhart). Chad immediately begins doom-and-glooming, his silver tongue manipulating the entire conversation. He spews seemingly endless venom about first women then on the frustrations and pressures of his corporate job and his superiors all under the guise of advise to his friend Howard. Chad is very pissed off, in fact…about everything. One of the things he’s pissed off about is his anonymous corporation is currently sending he and Howard off to an unspecified city to being work on an unnamed six week project. Soft-spoken Howard is to be in charge of said project when they arrive.
During the course of their trip, Howard and Chad, old college buddies, confide in one another that they’ve both been dumped by their respective girlfriends. Howard recognized that often he would call his fiancé three to four times before she would call him back even once; “the whole phone fade-out thing”. Chad simply came home one day to a note, his futon and his American Gigolo poster. “Bitch even took the frame off it.” He’s sick of women ruining his man’s world and the way that men are treated by the opposite sex nowadays. Chad is afraid that the days of male dominance are in their final hour. “We’re doomed then…as a race…God, it just makes me wanna fuck somebody up but good. We ought to do something about it,” says Chad.
At their receiving airport over a few drinks, Chad proposes some gamesmanship to pass the time during their time away from home and to vent his frustrations on all womankind. It’s somewhat ironic that Chad rudely asks a waitress, “Do we look like frat boys?”, when his proposal is, in essence, a take on the old frat boy practical joke of finding the fattest and/or ugliest girl to take to a party, albeit tons more deceitful, sophisticated and callous. His plan is this [somewhat paraphrased here]:
We find a girl – a wallflower-type, vulnerable as hell; a woman who’s sure that a full romantic, sexual life is lost to her. We take this “corn-fed bitch who’d practically mess her pants” if we showed her any attention and we both hit her. We date her, showering her with more attention and romance than she’s certainly used to. Small talk, flowers, dinner dates and movies, you and me just upping the ante the entire time. “ Suddenly, she’s got two men, she’s calling her mom, she’s wearing makeup again. On and on we play until one day suddenly – out goes the rug and us pulling it hard. And Jill? She just comes tumbling after. An hour later we’re on a flight back to civilization like nothing ever happened. Trust me, she’ll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week. And we will laugh about this until we are very old men.” And in the process we restore a little dignity to our lives. No matter what happens after this: passed over for promotion, wife leaves us, we would always have this to fall back on. We could always say, “Yeah, fine. But they never got me like we got her.” I think it’d be refreshing…and therapeutic. Especially considering what we both just went through with our girlfriends. So you in?
Howard, too weak-willed and easily led, agrees.
“Alright. Let’s do it. Let’s hurt somebody.”
Let’s hurt somebody. Three very simple words. LaBute claims this was the first line of dialogue to enter his mind when he began working on the screenplay. He says his model for the screenplay was restoration comedy, like Dangerous Liaisons (or Cruel Intentions for you younger folk) where the affluent or powerful toy emotionally with the weak and the poor. It’s a simple story says LaBute: “Boys meet girl, boys crush girl, boys giggle.”
I wish it were that simple. While somewhat entertaining, I believe this film would quickly turn into a one-trick pony if that’s all it was about. In The Company of Men has many layers and the characters (at least one, in particular) have motives that aren’t readily apparent at first but are revealed as the flick chugs along. There are quite a few major and requisite twists before the proverbial fat lady belts her final note. Just when you think that you’ve seen Chad’s worst, just when you think he can’t become any more hateful or despicable, he takes his ruthlessness to another more cruel level.
Once Chad and Howard arrive at work, Chad runs into an attractive young typist who seems to be ignoring him. Turns out she isn’t ignoring him at all. Christine (Stacy Edwards), the typist is completely deaf. You can physically feel your stomach churn when you see Chad’s eyes light up when he learns this fact. A light bulb goes off in his head and you feel like reaching for your remote. The sweet, unassuming Christine just unknowingly made herself a target for psychological dismemberment and emotional devastation. Chad has found his mark. He can’t wait to tell Howard about their newfound target and all of the misery he has in store for this complete stranger. Chad almost seems to draw power from his ability to manipulate those around him. He’s addicted to his head games and is literally drunk with his “power”.
The “date and dump” game begins and proceeds as planned. Both men spend time alternately wooing the introverted Christine and report the details back to the other. But of course, there’s that saying about “best laid plans” and Murphy’s Law to get in the way. As time passes, Howard’s conscience begins to get the best of him and he becomes conflicted about his part in this prank. Soon the wishy-washy Howard begins to fall for Christine. He’s afraid to tell Chad for fear of being ridiculed, but finally he admits to the naïve Christine that he is in love with her. Christine is flattered, but she has a revelation of her own: she’s in love with Chad. And that’s only the beginning, folks, trust me.
In The Company of Men is a two-sided disc, one side with the original widescreen theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the other side contains the full-frame "pan-and-scan" version. While the video isn’t really that great for DVD, one has to remember that the movie was filmed for practically nothing, so this should be forgivable. The print also seems to actually look better on the full frame side. The artificial letterboxing on the widescreen side chops off portions of the picture, so perhaps LaBute intended this movie to fit your sets at home. The audio is nice and loud. The movie is separated by weeks (as in Week One, Week Two and so forth) and at the start of each “week”, you get blasted by this “jungle” music that jars your senses awake. A nice touch that keeps you on edge and doesn’t allow you to really “settle in” during the movie. It’s almost like a sleep deprivation tactic that draws you into the emotional bedlam that this film contains. There are also subtitles available in either English, French or Spanish.
This disc, despite being released on March 17, 1998 when the format was still somewhat in its widespread infancy, contains one of my all-time favorite extras. No, not a theatrical trailer, which is here and funny enough, paints the movie as some sort of comedy about relationships (talk about your false advertising! Even the cover of the DVD shows the two leads laughing at what looks to be the funniest joke in the history of mankind although I don’t recall EVER seeing Howard laugh during the movie itself). In The Company of Men has TWO commentary tracks. One with director LaBute and a few cast members and another with just the cast. This is manna from heaven for a guy like me and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.
“You walk away from it feeling as if you’ve just witnessed a rape that you’d done nothing to stop.” - Jack Mathers of Newsday describing In The Company of Men
Chilling. That’s the one word I’d used to describe what I think of Chad and Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of him. I mean, the man would have to grow a block mustache and propose the Holocaust to be considered any more evil. I’ve seen him described elsewhere as an amoral and egotistical macho prick, but even that does not do him justice. The most chilling thing about Chad is that people like him are all too common in today’s corporate world. Chad could be lurking in the cubicle right next to you or worse yet, Chad could BE you. Why does Christine fall for him? Well, like I read in one review, he’s the type of “bastard who knows exactly what to say”. His knowing exactly what to say makes him that much more frightening. You would think you’d be repulsed by his normal activities, but Chad is actually harder to watch when he’s acting nice because you are aware of just how false he’s being. It's difficult to watch him describe Christine's speech patterns as dolphin-like clicking noises and laugh about her to his friends, but it's twice as hard to watch when he calls Christine's parents to ask if she's received the flowers he's sent her.
Chad is often described by other reviewers as a misogynist. This isn’t true at all. Chad fucks over everyone one equally, males and females alike. He hates everyone. The fact that he uses his devilish charm to further his twisted agendas is absolutely…realistic. People like Chad exist and something like this could happen. The corporate world is dog-eat-dog and Chad knows this. And he is determined, by any means necessary, not to be eaten. Yes, he is horrible to watch, but how horrible are you for wanting to bear witness; to not want to take your eyes away from the screen when watching him?
You know what’s really foul about this movie? For all his cockiness, his ice-cold demeanor and hurtful ways, our “villain” Chad never gets his come uppance. The movie does not end on a happy note. Major characters are left shattered; whittled down to little nubs, all in the name of personal advancement and our antagonist? He ends up getting a hummer. There is no justice, no just desserts for Chad. Virtue is, to borrow a phrase from a friend, trod upon with steel-shod boots and ground into a fine, powdery dust. This is not a Hollywood movie that pats you on the back on your way out of the theater and reassures you that everything will turn out all right; that good will always triumph in the end. Uh-uh. It smacks you in the face with probably a much-needed dose of reality.
Life isn’t that clear cut. In The Company of Men shows us that good things don’t always come to those who wait, that the meek just might not inherit the Earth and that the bad guys don’t always wear black. Sometimes they wear white-collared oxford button-down shirts. (or perhaps just a white collar if you’re a Catholic priest)
HIGHLY Recommended. Especially, if your girlfriend just dumped you. In fact, invite her over to watch it with you as a way to mind-fuck her like she’s no doubt done to you over the course of your relationship.
O.R. Polk, Jr.