In the Company of Men

on August 01, 1997 by Lael Loewenstein
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   One of few films at this year's festival to generate much controversy, Neil LaBute's "In the Company of Men" is a flawed but fascinating look at male bonding, misogyny, and Machiavellian competitiveness in contemporary corporate culture. Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy), two junior execs disgruntled with their lots in life, formulate a plan: Finding the most fragile, unassuming female they can, they will emotionally and sexually exploit her and then summarily dump her. Why? Simply to prove they can do it.
   As their unwitting quarry, Christine (a superb Stacy Edwards), a secretary in their office, is everything they had hoped for and more: lovely, trusting, vulnerable--and deaf. After she's dated both men and fallen blindly for Chad, he brushes her off unsympathetically in a scene so heartless it leaves the audience reeling. Eckhart, at times flat, at others chillingly good, excels particularly in this rejection sequence, exuding a blend of arrogance and smarminess.
   What is so troubling about this Alliance production is that Chad receives no comeuppance. Not only has he manipulated an unsuspecting female, he also manages to take advantage of his friend Howard. Because Chad never pays for his cruelty, the film is a real departure from classical convention: Not one ounce of moral restitution can be found in the climax. As such, writer/director LaBute's tacit acceptance of this kind of behavior comes perilously close to an endorsement. It leaves the viewer piqued but fundamentally unsatisfied. Worse, the inconsistent acting and poor production values compromise the film; the dialogue itself is sharp and incisive but, as one strains to hear it, crucial words and ideas are lost.    Starring Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy and Stacy Edwards. Directed and written and directed by Neil LaBute. Produced by Mark Archer and Neil LaBute. A Sony Classics release. Drama. Rated R for language and emotional abuse. Running time: 93 min.
Tags: Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy and Stacy Edwards. Directed and written and directed by Neil LaBute. Produced by Mark Archer and Neil LaBute. A Sony Classics release. Drama, manipulated, classical, vulnerable, deaf
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