It’s late at night, and two guys acquaintances, presumably are sitting together in an airport boarding area. They’re just talking, passing the time.
Nothing strange about it. Nothing strange at all.
And if you were sitting across the lobby from them, you probably wouldn’t think twice about who they were or what they were discussing.
But filmmaker Neil LaBute has an agenda. He brings these guys to you, up close and personal. And just that quickly, you discover there’s something strange going on here after all.
Something strange but something all too familiar.
For what these guys - Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) - are talking about is their rage. Especially their rage at women.
And as easily as if they were making plans to go on a weekend grouse hunt, they agree to get some revenge.
Their plan is simple. Since they’re going to be in a strange town for the next six weeks (by now, we know that they are colleagues working away from home on the same special project), they make a pact: They will find a woman, romance her to the point of trust and vulnerability, and then dump her.
Won’t that be fun? Well, maybe.
For it turns out that they both romance the same woman, an attractive, hearing-impaired typist (Stacy Edwards). And while they proceed with their plan, at least one of the men begins to have real feelings for her.
Which, ultimately, makes matters only worse.
Writer-director LaBute, a 1979 graduate of Spokane’s Central Valley High School, has created a minor national buzz with his debut film. The author of several produced plays, LaBute filmed “In the Company of Men” during an 11-day shoot on a budget that totaled out, he says, at $250,000.
Yet in that short time and for that bare-bones price, he has created a study in what he calls “emotional abuse” that may be unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Aside from the acidic comments from Chad in particular, one of the most disturbing aspects to “In the Company of Men” not to mention the most controversial is that LaBute never directly condemns the men for what they do.
In fact, one of them ends up just exactly where he wanted to be - you strongly suspect - from the beginning.
The heat surrounding “In the Company of Men,” of course, comes from its gender-based themes. If the film weren’t filled with such savage misogynistic comments, it likely wouldn’t have aroused such reactions. As it is, some observers claim that LaBute is saying all men are like Chad and Howard; still others are certain that they are.
But it’s just as valid to say that the film is more a study of sociopathy than simple sexism (racist notions get bandied about, too). In the end, the one who triumphs is willing to do anything, to destroy anyone, to get his way.
And if there’s a woman or a male intern around to abuse in the process, so much the better.
Eckhart, by playing the caddish Chad, just may have propelled himself into a bigger career. He bites off each word with an energy that is frighteningly believable. Malloy, as the milquetoast, is less effective but no less authentic as a character.
Edwards isn’t required to do much more than look good and cry on command. But LaBute added to her challenge by giving her character a hearing impairment, something she doesn’t have in real life. She fills the role perfectly.
In the end, “In the Company of Men” is a little film, shot on the cheap and filled with unknown actors. What’s worse, it suffers from a one-note quality that becomes a tad tiresome. It’s a little like watching someone tear the wings off flies: Some of us will turn away, some of us will watch, but most of us ultimately will agree that the event - no matter how it affects us - is wrong. Simple lesson.
If there is no larger sense of story, no surprise, no irony, then what is the point?
And yet, it’s impossible to deny the power of LaBute’s raw, uncompromising portrait of societal wing-tearing. It is precisely that power that makes “In the Company of Men” so utterly watchable.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “IN THE COMPANY OF MEN” *** Location: Lincoln Heights Cinemas Credits: Written and directed by Neil LaBute, starring Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, Stacy Edwards, Mark Rector, Jason Dixie. Running time: 1:33 Rating: PG