When does something become terrible? Is it as an idea? Is it in as an action? For Neil LaBute it was the line, “let’s hurt somebody.” The answer to that question in his movie, In the Company of Men, is never totally clear, but it has a surprising amount of fun with the question. The movie explores just what happens when two misogynistic men put their ill-conceived plan of dating and dumping the same woman into motion. Honestly, the premise sounded pretty thin when I first heard about it it back 2002 or so. However, LaBute’s black comedy about the awful lengths that some men will go to feel empowered and the women they leave behind in their wake is both hilarious and profoundly unsettling within the same movie.
At the heart of the movie is a great performance by Aaron Eckhart, who plays Chad, the narcissistic and vindictive creator of the plan. Eckhart is so thoroughly engrossed in the role that even years after, it was still difficult for me to be able to watch him in some things. However, as time went on, I found it in my heart to forgive him (even though I know it was just a role) and he’s continued to impress, give or take that Jennifer Aniston romantic drama he did.
Still, Eckhart doesn’t deserve sole credit. The machismo and testosterone he gives off in waves are complemented by the innocence of Howard, played by Matt Malloy, and Christine, played by Stacy Edwards. Both these characters serve a very defined function in stopping the audience from being overwhelmed by Chad’s actions. Howard plays the “weak” second string business man with a mixture of fear and compassion that helps to offset some of the more over-the-top scenes. However, Christine’s purpose is purely the innocent. Don’t get me wrong, she plays a pivotal role and plays jaded beautifully without making it seem like a one-note performance. Still, the character of Chad always feels the need to be larger than life so it’s fitting that in the movie, these characters would take on these lesser characteristics.
In the end it’s difficult to say what’s so compelling about In the Company of Men. After all, the premise itself is so off-putting, but something about the movie just works. I mean, of course the performances are a very strong part of it, but the script that they’re working with also deserves some of the credit. The way that LaBute dances between dark and light shows off his strengths as a writer. His style of humor isn’t for everyone, but there’s something to be said about being purposely offensive to demonstrate a point that shows a level of bravery and commitment not seen by many directors anymore. When these performances and an impressive script are combined what results is a deeply disturbing portrait of two men desperate to feel in control again and the innocent young woman who stands in the way of that,but more importantly, a movie that holds up years after its initial viewing.