Movie review - "In the Company of Men"

September 03, 1997|By Jason Myers

"In the Company of Men"

Corporate America has become such an impersonal circus of capitalistic enterprise that individual voices often are lost among the big top of memos and mission statements. Neil LaBute gives voice to two corporate workers in the scathingly witty "In the Company of Men." Many viewers probably will wish they had kept their mouths shut.

Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) are two pathetic specimens of modern man. Chad is a slick, obnoxious player for whom everything is an act. Howard is a shallow, subservient nebbish for whom everything is simultaneously nonchalant and burdensome. The two have been through enough objections, rejections and dejections with women to write off the female race altogether.

Chad, sinister thinker that he is, concocts a "game" in which he and Howard will court the same woman, preferably a vulnerable, doleful type, building a solid relationship until without notice or reason they dump her.


"Let's hurt somebody," Chad states with insidious glee. Such is the mind of many a man, I am certain, and the basis for the most controversial film of the year.

It is more than a little disarming to watch these two men woo Christine (movingly played by Stacy Edwards), a deaf typist at the nameless firm they work for, knowing their heartless intentions. What is most disturbing, and, ultimately, affecting about "Men" is its subtly accurate depiction of our near religious necessity to cause one another pain.

In this film, characters only achieve catharsis when they have demeaned someone. In one particularly effective scene, Chad orders a subordinate to drop his pants so he can see if the kid is man enough to climb the corporate ladder.

What could have been a misogynistic sourball is one of the most shockingly absorbing, bracingly funny movies of the year. LaBute is clearly a writer and director of considerable skill and intellect. Not many could engage an audience with such a repellent storyline and two equally acidic lead characters. He imbues the film with a satiric grace that makes us both laugh at and ponder the full scale misanthropy of the modern workplace.

"Men" is an expert examination of the moral decay of our society. The reason we are so sickened by the conscience-less actions of Chad and Howard is because they ring so true.

LaBute has captured the cadence of '90s yuppies in his invigoratingly smart script. He also is masterful with his camera, refusing just to point and shoot. His angles are clever and insightful; in one shot, Christine explains how it is easy for her to read lips at a movie because they are 20 feet tall - meanwhile the audience can barely see her mouth. LaBute proves that imagination and intelligence always will win over a big budget ("Men" was made for $20,000).

Eckhart's performance is a riveting display of the Machiavellian heart of darkness which is bred by fluorescent lighting, water coolers and conference calls. Chad is Dilbert meets the Marquis de Sade. He's so bad, he's good, and "In the Company of Men" is so good it's great.

The Herald-Mail Articles