Strictly Business

Them Against "They": Aaron Eckhart and Matt Malloy in Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men.

So what's to shock here? Sure, the men make sexist jokes and throw their heads back to bare their fangs, laughing obnoxiously. But, having heard how relentlessly evil these guys were supposed to be, my expectations simply weren't met. Or maybe it was the film's cold style that numbed me to its content. LaBute gives In the Company of Men a rigorously banal yet ominous (and obvious?) look, his images of the workplace cut up by slices of shadows cast from window blinds. The office setting is under construction--suggesting a battlefield that's far from the civilized quarters of the mother corporation--and the camera dispassionately pans across yellow "caution" tape strung up everywhere. In one scene, workers line up to use an unseen Xerox machine as if they're lambs to the slaughter.

With Chad's perverse romance amounting to a mere subplot in his larger, Machiavellian plan for career advancement, the movie does make a larger statement about the pervasive, dehumanizing forces of the corporate environment upon worker-bees. But it could have shown this--and still dealt with sexism's sticky role in the equation--without the seduction-of-the-wallflower story.

People have gone all queasy for In the Company of Men, but only in relation to the raft of other product currently doing battle at the box office. No wonder the film's ads quote the Times' Janet Maslin, who deems it "the show stopper of the moment!" (Italics mine.) Amid this gadfly hyperbole, it's easy to forget about such truly sickening movies as Mike Nichols's Carnal Knowledge and Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange--or, more recently, Mike Leigh's Naked and Tom Noonan's The Wife. Chalk up In the Company of Men's "buzz" to successful counterprogramming in a summer of popcorn movies.

In the Company of Men starts Friday at the Uptown Theatre.

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