Neil LaBute’s “In the Company of Men” (1997) is easily the most controversial film of the movie year, which says something, for as much as David Cronenberg’s “Crash” and “Lost Highway” ” by David Lynch also debuted in 1997.
It begins with a strong percussion score, with the opening scene taking place in a man’s room. The first sentence we hear is from Aaron Eckhart’s Chad, who asked his friend and office colleague Howard (Matt McCoy), “So, how are you feeling?”
Chad and Howard are caustic and exhausted from work. We sensed that Chad was an alpha male immediately, not only from the way he talked to Howard but also from the way he casually mentioned owning an “American Gigolo” poster.
As we listen to their conversations, which become increasingly brutal at random, we learn how obnoxious and childish they are.
What they discuss in the context of the “changing room” becomes the core of a kind of “Stranger on the Train” (1951) scenario, as LaBute’s film becomes a white-collar thriller. Chad and Howard decide, for fun, to find an innocent woman who they will both swoon with with abundant attention, then pour all their energy into, to feel good about themselves.
“In the Company of Men” is sinister, gripping, and truly horrifying, a remarkable achievement for a film where the violence (except for one scene) is purely verbal. LaBute never apologized to Chad or Howard, nor celebrated them. We view these creeps the way we would watch jaguars eat antelope in a nature documentary.
While references are made to Lewis & Clark and the Wright brothers, both Chad and Howard are archetypes before Patrick Bateman (or at least, the kind of office colleague that would compare business cards to him. ).
Stacy Edwards was cast as Christine, a deaf woman Chad and Howard choose as their intended victim, an office worker who is initially pleased that she is being pursued by two men. . She even lied to Howard to date Chad, although the film makes it difficult when one of the two creeps playing her boyfriend has a crush on her.
LaBute’s movies are not misogynistic, but about misogyny. There is a big difference between the two and LaBute, who prefers provocation to tradition, never goes easy on his audience.
Edwards was cast as a character who is deaf (as well as the overall tone, which avoids any kind of moral imperative of the audience) who won’t fly in today. That said, there’s nothing remotely silly, insensitive or erroneous about Edwards’ performance; yes, she plays a deaf adult, but the character is fun and layered, not an icon or caricature.
Despite what happens to Christine, she’s tough, independent, and a survivor (watch her in the painful and perfect final scene).
QUICK FACT: Neil LaBute looks back on his directorial debut 20 years later with the help of Sony Pictures Classics: “I don’t think sexism has necessarily gone away. Of course, over the past 20 years, we have begun to overcome those old notions about the “place of women”. But at the same time, I think it’s ridiculous to think that people who are better educated are less likely to be sexist or racist. Old tricks die hard.
Just in case the audience is drawn to Chad’s charisma and lack of an almost comical moral background, LaBute includes a heartwarming scene where Chad racists against a co-worker; the purpose was clearly to illustrate just how big of an evil, heinous behavior Chad is, although the scene is a bit too much.
If anything, LaBute will surprise us by going in the opposite direction and showing us Chad isn’t racist, however, considering what we learn about him, it’s hard to tell. believe that any part of him will be empathized or progressive.
“In the Company of Men” was the first movie I ever saw at the Maya Theater, a historic landmark in Denver, Colo. More than once I have survived threats of a wrecked ball. I was invited to watch the film with a group of young women living in the stairwell of my university and have heard rave reviews about it.
Since I was writing a film review for our college paper, I was invited along with a group of intelligent and adventurous women to watch this fascinating film and to my astonishment I found that I clearly Apparently the only male present at the packed opening evening screening. .
Throughout the movie, there are moments where I want to hide under my seat.
While it’s full of gripping moments, the candid quality of LaBute’s script, matched with the performances, left me completely hooked.
One odd detail I remember about that screening: “Kiss Me Guido,” which aired the same night and was playing on the screen next to it, created thunderous laughter below us. At that moment, I wish I could get out and see that.
By the time LaBute’s film ended, I felt drained, both disgusted and awestruck by its brazen ugliness. I don’t remember the conversations I had with my new friends on the way back to college, just know that they were long, passionate and open-minded in the way the film provides with the candor of it.
Despite the rise of Eckhart’s star soon after the movie hit theaters and the shocking nature of the film, “In the Company of Men” didn’t exist. I wonder if it looks like a late ’90s relic, one of those tiny monuments that made its mark then faded into consciousness.
LaBute’s film is cruel and heartbreaking, but it is designed by design and is intended to get audiences talking about the type of behavior commonly known as “dressing room talk” or “boys are boys.”
LaBute is warning us that the only thing worse than a man being deliberately mean to women is a man who believes he could never do something like that. McCoy’s Howard is the substitute for the audience, and he’s also the real monster of the movie.
LaBute’s movies are smart enough to know that the most dangerous person here is not Chad but the naive, spoiled, and stupid Howard. The premise is outrageous, and the plot that drives the plot is of course hurtful, but LaBute, instead of punishing Chad’s blatantly terrible, explores how the moral conflict of delay and Howard’s good intentions lead to bit by bit behavior like Chad can happen. up with.
Howard groans, “You can’t see I’m a Good Guy,” and, like Christine, we don’t believe him.
That’s why “In the Company of Men” remains so horrifying and essential. LaBute is telling us that everyone is capable of reprehensible behavior, no matter who they are in a relationship with.