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IN THE COMPANY OF MEN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, Stacey Edwards
Director:  Neil Labute
Audio:  Dolby Digital Surround
Video:  Widescreen 1.78:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  97 Minutes
Release Date:  March 17, 1998

Film ****

In the Company of Men combines two of the rare jewels of cinema in one picture:  it's a film that finds faith that normal, realistic people and their thoughts, motivations, conversations, and interactions can be entertaining without murders, car chases, explosions or sex--that is, a film that is not afraid to rely on the strengths of its writing and acting.  And second, it's another one of those rare independent films that proves you don't need a big budget to make an entertaining, and thought provoking film.

Those things being said, I must also add, this film is equally bold and shameless in the fact that its subject matter is an extremely unpleasant one, and it's a fact that cause almost as many critics who hated the film as loved it.

I won't reveal too much of the plot, because there are some unexpected twists and turns along the way, but here's a brief summary:  The film centers on two main characters, Chad (Eckhart) and Howard (Malloy). Both are away from home on a job assignment for six weeks.  Both have recently experienced an unpleasant romantic situation, and both are a little bitter, even to the point of possibly misogyny.  At first, it seems like a man's answer to movies like Waiting to Exhale or First Wives Club, with a gender reversal on the popular "men are scum" theme.

Then it gets a little more interesting. Chad's idea, in the name of revenge against all women, suggests he and Howard play a little game.  The object is to find some poor wallflower of a girl, one who probably never gets asked out, spend the six weeks romancing her individually with full accoutrements of dinners, shows, flowers, etc.  Then at the end of their time, dump her cold and go back home.  Chad believes that will be something they can both hold on to in the future when the next and inevitable sets of female troubles comes around.

So they pick their victim, a shy, deaf secretary named Christine (Edwards).  Both begin to turn on the charm, and we see the plan unfolding.  Of course, and I don't think I give anything away here, the problem becomes that both men really seem to be beginning to like her. After all, she's pretty, sweet, and fun to be with.  Suddenly, the simple game is becoming complicated.

That is as far as I will say, because the possible complications that could arise from that will keep you guessing the rest of the way.  All I will add is that the climax of the movie packs a wallop, like an emotional sledge hammer right between your eyes.

Video ***

This is not a reference quality disc for either picture or sound, but keep in mind, this is a low budget film without a lot of frills.  Given that, it's certainly good enough.  The colors, though not from a wide palate, are well rendered and natural looking, and there is no noticeable bleeding, compression or grain.  The disc has both widescreen and full frame versions, and the full frame version seems to add a little more to the top and bottom of the picture than most films do. 

Audio **

Again, no complaints, but nothing spectacular either, given the nature of the film.  Not much dynamic range, and sparse if any use of the rear stage.  Dialogue is clearly rendered, and that's what matters most here.

Features ***

Some good features, including two full length commentaries, one by the actors, and one by Labute and the filmmakers.  Both are entertaining and informative, and I find myself actually more attracted to commentaries that explain how to bring a good movie in for such little money than the ones explaining the several million dollar effects shot.  There is also a trailer.

Summary:

It is stunning in an era of $200 million epics that a film this well made, this absorbing, and this thought provoking could have been made for only $25,000.  It works when a film is well written and acted, and this one scores high marks across the board.  I look forward with great anticipation to future works from Neil Labute, and I certainly hope he can bring this terrific cast together again.