Movie Review
The Company
2003
Director: Robert Altman
Cast: Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell, James Franco
B


if any American filmmaker loves subverting the dominant paradigm, it's Robert Altman. Film directing is a job tailor-made for a control freak, and yet Altman thrives on chaos. Throw dozens of characters together, unite them around a common theme, let their dialogue overlap, and hope for the best. In the 70s, Altman made a career from films that embraced the offbeat; Nashville was a talky, jumbled mess that brilliantly embraced an entire culture while pretending to explore its music, and The Long Goodbye treated Phillip Marlowe as holy myth and coughed him out into a post-hippie zeitgeist, with sublime results. With The Company, Altman gambles with the most basic tenet of storytelling: characters must have objectives. Apparently, he wants to prove otherwise, and he does so with varying levels of success in this new film about a ballet company.

The Company is certainly a vanity project for star Neve Campbell, who also produced and co-wrote the film's (largely nonexistent) story. Campbell, you see, trained for years as a dancer before switching artistic gears, and even when filmed alongside the dancers of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet, Campbell makes an enchanting ballerina.

All the film's best scenes are documentary-style dance segments, moments when Altman pulls back and allows the dancers to shine. Even for somebody—like myself—who's never seen a ballet, the choreography is enthralling and the music hypnotic. The Joffrey Ballet is a testament to the human body, dance being the purest expression of visceral emotion.

However, The Company also makes vague attempts at exploring the inner workings of a dance company, in particular the life of Neve Campbell's Ryan, who somehow finds time to work as a cocktail waitress. Unfortunately, Ryan is a character without a single dimension, and no objective. The film teases us with a romance between Ryan and James Franco's short-order chef, but its a romance without conflict, a relationship without depth.

Malcolm McDowell's irritable artistic director is The Company's only halfway interesting figure, a man devoted to the subtle interiors of the dance, and to the notion that the best art is perpetrated by emotional involvement, not style and craft.

The Company is a potentially involving film suffering from an identity crisis. As a straight concert film, The Company never bores, unlike Carlos Saura's dreadful Tango, and Altman's camera is passionate about its subject (and particularly of its star performer). However, the script also serves us half-baked stick figures masquerading as characters; the plot functioning as a simple interlude to the dancing.

I'd like to give Altman the benefit of the doubt; maybe The Company is a tacit experiment, a veiled commentary on the superficiality of modern storytelling, positing that, in the modern age, only more esoteric forms of art can affect us on an emotional level. Maybe—after a string of witty gabfests like The Player and Gosford Park—Altman the intellectual wants his viewers to experience gut reactions.

My gut reaction just tells me The Company is mediocre.


By: Akiva Gottlieb
Published on: 2004-01-09
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