Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In the Company of Men


Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, Stacy Edwards

Rated R for Language and Emotional Abuse

Let's hurt someone.
That's the line that grew into this screenplay.  The premise, about two businessmen playing a cruel joke on a vulnerable woman, is sleazy, and despite aspirations to do otherwise, it doesn't do much else.  Writer/director Neil LaBute forces us to watch these characters, neither of whom is likable, talk and talk and talk.  That's fine, but they don't say anything interesting or insightful.

Chad (Eckhart) and Howard (Malloy) are sitting in a nameless airport talking.  Both of them are burned from bad break-ups, but Chad is especially angry because he sees women interfering in the "man's world," and how the workplace bends over backwards for their sake, but he has to walk on tiptoes around them lest he get fired for saying the wrong thing.  Both are travelling businessmen, so on their next six-week trip, they decide to "find a girl vulnerable as hell," get her to like both of them, and then dump her at the same time.  Mostly because he is seduced by Chad's charisma, Howard reluctantly agrees.  Their target is Christine (Edwards), a deaf but pretty typist.  The game doesn't turn out either of them expect.

Had this film presented us with real characters and/or shed some kind of light on the human condition, the inherent cruelty of the film's plot might be justifiable.  But all three of the leads (no one else has more than a line or two) are so thinly drawn that they can be defined by a single characteristic: Chad is a borderline psychopath, Howard is a masochist with self-esteem issues, and Christine is a doormat.  It's a good starting point, but they don't even grow enough to fill out the clich├ęs that LaBute has pigeonholed them into.

It's not for lack of trying on the actors' part.  They try their best, but there's just nothing they can really do with so little to work with.  Aaron Eckhart, always an interesting actor, does his best with what he has.  It is a testament to his talent that there are moments when he shows how truly malicious Chad is.  Matt Malloy does a good job of portraying a doormat with a conscience, but apart from that there's nothing really unique about his character or his portrayal.  Stacy Edwards gives the best performance in the film, although she doesn't have much to do other than make us wait for the hammer to fall on her.  Interestingly, she nearly couldn't star in the film because her wedding date was around the time when shooting was to start.  The producers pushed back shooting to accommodate her.  Considering the result, it was a wise decision.

Neil LaBute often makes plays and films about how men and women relate to each other, and he certainly has a cynical view about it (his films include "Your Friends and Neighbors" and "The Shape of Things").  Unfortunately, he doesn't really say much of any interest.  A better investment of everyone's time would to show Chad seeing a shrink to deal with his issues with women, sending Howard to a Tony Robbins seminar, and showing Christine in a relationship with a guy who actually respects her.

I will fully admit that the end of the film has a twist that I didn't see coming.  But you have to deal with the bland 90 minutes before and the equally bland (and badly open-ended) 5 minutes after to see it.  It's not worth it.

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