Yup. This is how us dudes think.
Two male co-workers, Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy), are both angry and frustrated with women. So much so that they get to a point where they feel the need to plot and toy maliciously with the emotions of a deaf female subordinate Christine (Stacy Edwards). Something that, at first, plays out like a terrible, mean-spirited game, but eventually, turns into something far more serious and romantic for Howard.
If you go into a Neil LaBute movie, chances are, you know what to expect. His movies are mean, nasty, and most of all, angry. However, you can’t hate them if they’re, well, for the most part, well-done and written.
And sadly, that’s exactly what In the Company of Men, his directorial debut, is.
The premise, right away, will turn most people away. Yes, it’s a cruel joke that two guys literally come up with after a night of shooting the shit and coming to realize that maybe women are all terrible and deserve to be manipulated and treated like crap. This is something that will most likely have audiences out of the film before the ten-minute mark and as well as they should be. There is some real painful stuff to be had here and when you see the grand scheme of things, it’s even worse. But somehow, LaBute makes it work.
Granted, this whole film is basically just one whole conversation after another that just so happens to be stretched-out to an hour-and-37-minutes. That would seem terribly boring for some, but with a screenplay like LaBute’s, it’s anything but. Every character here has an agenda, an idea, and their own way of speaking to one another. Some are shy, some are nervous, some are dicks, and some are just plain and simple people, but either way, you’ll notice that in this film, everybody is different from one another by the way they act and speak to one another, but yet, still have the same thoughts on most things as well. In a way, it’s exactly like a play (something that, obviously, LaBute specializes in), but it never feels too talky or meandering like some plays-turned-to-movies can occasionally feel.
As for being a huge piece of misogyny at it’s finest, I don’t really think that was LaBute’s aim and it shows. This whole film is definitely considered as one big cruel joke that goes on for way too long, but it isn’t the idea of these two dudes manipulating a deaf girl is what gets me, it’s the fact that LaBute is still able to bring some heart and depth out of these characters while they are doing so. If you look at it from afar, everybody in this film gets hurt in one way or another, and that’s sort of how life is. No matter who you may hurt, another person always gets hurt, and you’ll most likely get hurt once again later in life.
It’s some deep stuff, even if there is a deaf girl at the center getting toyed around with.
And just to show you how terrible and disgusting men can be, ladies, just take a look at the finest specimen/example to-date: Chad. Aaron Eckhart plays the mother of all slime-balls everywhere as Chad and from beginning-to-end is exactly what all girls think they see in the quintessential dick-head. Full of himself, powerful, angry, never nice, rude, manipulative, and most of all, just plain evil. But you know what’s even worse about that idea? It’s actually true because there are guys out there in the world that are just like Chad, and are just as hell-bent on showing the type of control they have over somebody and their emotions. Eckhart is almost too perfect in this role because the guy always feels like he knows what he’s doing, never makes a mistake about it, and rarely ever apologizes for doing so. You’ll come to hate this guy’s guts, but you can’t take your eyes off of him and there’s something inherently compelling about that. We all know people that are just like Chad and you know what? As much as we may hate them, they still never cease to amaze us with just how far they’re willing to go.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, playing his buddy/partner-in-crime is one of my favorite character actors ever, Matt Malloy. Malloy’s Howard is definitely the far more sympathetic one out of the duo as it seems like he genuinely does not care for this experiment, but is just participating in it to appear “cool ” in front of the eyes of Chad. It’s terrible to think that someone would actually want to stoop down to Chad’s level, but LaBute makes a pretty clear case in Howard; not just by showing that he’s still heart-broken over a recent break-up, but that he’s not exactly the one dude you call up for beers and to talk about sports. He’s much more sensitive and in-tune with his feelings, which makes his dates with Christine all the more interesting and, honestly, sad.
Then, slap-dab in the middle all these guys is Stacy Edwards as Christine, the deaf co-worker. Edwards is beautiful – there’s no denying that one bit. However, it works well for the character in that it doesn’t really matter that she is, or isn’t deaf; she’s still got something of a lovely personality and seems to genuinely care for those in her life. This makes it all the more painful and hard to watch when it becomes awfully clear that she’s falling for one of these guys more than the other and is just getting her heart tripped-up all the more. Edwards does a perfect job with this character (even despite not being deaf), but it’s LaBute who I definitely think deserves credit for the handling of this character.
LaBute catches a lot of flack for not writing his female characters as strongly as his male characters, but in this case, I think they’re wrong. For one, there’s more to Christine than just being “the deaf girl”. She’s fun to be around, enthused about life, and simply put, doesn’t ask for any sympathy concerning her situation. She’s just happy to be around people who make her happy and is taking full pride in having two men in her life, that are actually interested in her. That’s what makes it all the more upsetting to think about what’s to come.
Because we all know that there’s just no chance in this ending well for anyone.
Except for, well, Chad of course. That dick.
Consensus: In every sense of the genre, In the Company of Men is a horror movie without any murder, blood, or monsters, but with three solid performances and a whole lot of insight into how the human brain works for all sorts of different men out there, whether anyone’s willing to admit it or not.
9 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Werewolves on the Moon