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Volume 91, Issue 33
Tuesday, October 28, 1997
It's all part of the business, baby
By John McEwan
A wise man once said, "revenge can be a beautiful thing." The desire for revenge is one of those dark emotions most people would like to deny they have. Few people can resist the temptation to take pleasure in the misfortune of an enemy, however, when the opportunity is offered...
The premise of In the Company of Men sounds ghastly. Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Molloy), two businessmen bitter about failed relationships, decide to take revenge on womankind. Their plan, to be executed during a six-week business trip, is to find a vulnerable woman, charm her, bed her, then dump her hard. By demonstrating their superiority, they intend to sooth their bruised egos. On the surface, these are two very sick and very misogynist men.
As unlikely as it might seem, In the Company of Men is a hilarious black comedy. The dialogue is neat and acerbic. As the story unfolds, the narrative maintains its momentum. Before long, the men have identified their target, a deaf secretary from the office named Cristine (Stacey Edwards) and the plot is set into motion.
The movie is successful because the director, Neil Labute, does not take sides. The men's acts are unabashedly horrific and the film is not an attempt to either apologize or explain their cruelty. It simply goes a step further and asks what makes men capable of such malice. Their intent is clear from the start and the suspense of the film lies in the uncovering of their motives. This is a lot more than a simple case of misogyny.
The dating scenes are very funny. The men have different styles, but they both go through the hokey business of asking her out, the small talk and the little confessions. Afterwards they meet to compare notes. The horror of the situation is that it could all be perfectly normal. What Cristine does not realize is that behind the flowers and sweet words is an element of menace.
As the title of the film suggests, however, In the Company of Men is not really a film about women at all. The secretary is merely the unwitting participant in the larger conflict between the two men, the battleground on which they fight for status and power. This is an office romance. The rules of the game are the rules of commerce and office politics where everybody is trying to get ahead. Business, in this universe, is all about taking pleasure in other people's misfortunes, gaining people's trust then screwing them over. Chad and Howard are simply playing the romance game the way they play the business game.
In the Company of Men is satire. There is enough truth behind all the wit, however, to suck in even the most hardened romantic. Chad and Howard seem almost too real at times. Is there any justice? Will they get what they deserve? Depending on how you look at it, the ending is either comforting or catastrophic.
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