The Birthday Series – In The Company of Men (1997)
Oh boy! When constructing this list of films to review, my life flashed before my eyes. I scrolled down the list of 1997 releases and much to my chagrin, a turd did greet me. On August 1st, ‘Spawn’ was released. I wasn’t a happy chappy. But with a little digging, the wonders of the internet provided me with a saviour! That very same day a small independent film crept into a couple of theatres. That film was Neil LaButes wickedly narcissistic debut, the pitch black comedy ‘In The Company of Men’.
Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Molloy) have been friends since college. They’ve worked for the same company for years, and Howard is now the new project manager. Their company has assigned them to an unnamed town for six weeks to complete the latest project. Both Chad and Howard have had recent troubles with women. Both have been dumped. They’re both disillusioned and looking to assert their authority. Become Men again. Chad comes up with a scheme. Something they can look back on and laugh about when they’re old and grey. What if they were to select a woman that is lonely and vulnerable, and simultaneously romance her, making her fall in love?
“And then one day, out goes the rug, and us pulling it hard. And Jill? She just comes tumbling after.”
This is a brutal film. Chad is one of those characters that stay in the memory long after you’ve watched the film. He’s a grotesquely misogynistic, loathsome narcissist. He’s a fake, bullying, weasely, self-involved, shallow person, but on the surface he projects a veneer of cocky, self-assured sincerity. He’s your best friend, to your face. But as soon as you’re back is turned he’s talking you down to the other guys, bigging himself up. The most unnerving thing is that he is so recognisable. I’ve known variations on this person in real life. To be quite honest, I’ve probably been something approaching this character at varying stages of my life. That is this films strength.
Aaron Eckhart is absolutely flawless in this film. He embodies Chad, and creates one of cinemas most memorable monsters. With true evil, which only becomes fully realised in the devastating final scenes, he tears apart lives. It’s a truly brilliant performance, and one that should have been widely recognised.
Howard is a weakling. He’s unsure about himself. He’s a follower. A sheep. He is the type of person that is drawn to a seemingly strong personality like Chad. Worshipping him. Allowing himself to be manipulated because it means inclusion and belonging. He’s the type of person you nearly always see standing just behind and to the left of a person like Chad. The fact that he’s just as big a monster, in his own way, as Chad is a credit to Molloys performance. It’s a terrific portrayal of a pathetic, spineless person. During the scene where he tries to weasel his way into the womans affections by telling her everything, laying the entire blame on Chad, his desperation and weakness is enraging.
The woman in question is Christine (Stacy Edwards). She’s attractive and shy. Simply a nice person. She’s a temporary secretary at the company Chad and Howard work for. She’s also deaf. This is not a deterrent for Chad. It’s quite the opposite. It’s perfect. It only makes her more vulnerable in his eyes. The relationships she has with both Chad and Howard are perfectly understandable. Each one starts at the same time, and progress naturally. Chad is the good looking, smooth operator. He makes the right moves, complementing her, sending her flowers, charming her mum. But Howard also plays it right. He’s respectful, courteous and compassionate. But he’s just such a non-entity that of course her affections gradually, naturally shift towards Chad. Her break up scene is heartbreakingly realistic. She’s a nice person and flattered with this new found attention. Something she’s not used to, and she now must make a choice. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and blames herself for leading Howard on. Edwards is terrific, but in particular this scene, and it makes everything that follows even more horrible.
This is Neil LaButes first film. What an amazing début. He adapted his play, but you’d never know it. He directs it with absolute control. It’s a spare film. Every scene is a piece of the whole, building towards the finale. He also brilliantly layers in doubt about Chad. As the relationship develops, we start to doubt Chads intentions. He seems to really like Christine. It’s perfectly handled. Going back to something I mentioned earlier, this film, these characters, are recognisable. Certainly not quite this heightened, but there are scenes in this film that perfectly capture the “locker room” mentality that you experience when a group of guys get together. It’s the whole macho culture, and the scene where Chad is looking through a company brochure and commenting on all the colleagues he knows (“He’s a new breed of fuck. Like a special strain of fucker. Oh I hate that little pussy cocksucker.”), is so grotesquely true to life that I shuddered and remembered similar experiences.
The music in ‘In The Company of Men’ is particularly effective. It’s only used during the opening titles, and during the title cards that count down the weeks. The music is this almost objectionable angry jazz that seems to assault you with it’s ferocity. It captures that underlying hostility of the characters and even feels like some sort of cathartic release for LaBute.
I could probably talk for a long time about this film, but I won’t bore you with that. It’s truly a film that encourages discussion and one that, although only watching it for the second time since it’s release, has stayed with me and has even more depth and meaning than the first time I watched it nearly 13 years ago. I’ve known and experienced people like this.
If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do so.
Thank you all for attending 1997’s birthday. This has been a very, very good one.
For Droids a jolly good fellow!
Tags: Aaron Eckhart, Black Comedy, Comedy, Droid, Film, Happy Fucking Birthday Droid!, In The Company of Men, Matt Molloy, Movie, Neil LaBute, Review, Stacey Edwards, Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I didn't have to watch and review that piece of shit Spawn, The Birthday Series
About Judge DroidIn between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.
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