Neil LaBute has written and directed this obscure black comedy focusing on the complexities of office politics, male pride, hatred and rivalry. Twisted, perhaps painfully honest, In The Company Of Men so impressed the jury at 1997's Sundance Film Festival that it ran off with the coveted Film-maker's Trophy. What begins as a sick, misogynist's game winds up as a portrait of the battle between two inflated male egos in the workplace, a cerebral mêlée, in which the victim is nothing but a pawn. On balance, this may be what LaBute is getting at, but the office machinations are rudely swept aside by Chad and Howard's fascinating misogyny.
Their appalling behaviour is made all the more compelling by the minimal direction. LaBute intelligently contrasts a crisp, detailed portrait of the actor's extreme actions with a sparse office environment and thus creates a world where it's easy for the audience to identify with the characters - - yet be distanced enough from them to judge their actions. The relentlessly charming Eckhart (In&Out) puts in a flawless turn as the good-looking city boy who hates women (""Never trust anything that can bleed for a week and not die""), while Malloy (Boys) is equally convincing as the likable, middle-aged Howard. But as with Edwards (The Fear), these two are forever playing second fiddle to Eckhart's mesmerising bitch-teaser.
It's impossible to describe In The Company Of Men as pleasurable viewing. It's brave, delivering an uncomfortable, thought-provoking experience. The cast may be low-profile, and the film may skate the edges of arthouse, but it's still one of the most controversial films you're likely to see this year.