By Matt Slovick
washingtonpost.com Staff
Aug. 20, 1997


Go to "In the Company of Men"
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What They Are Saying About 'In the Company of Men'

Many movie critics across the country have given good marks to Neil LaBute's first film:


My early choice for the most powerful, uncompromising film of the summer ... remarkable.
-- Ray Pride, New City (Chicago)

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A riveting film with a hushed intensity that reminded me of "sex, lies and videotape." Neil LaBute makes corporate encounters feel like thriller confrontations.
-- Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

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The most talked about film this year has no graphic sex or violence -- simply brutal honesty about the kind of cruelty, one fears, is not uncommon in the workplace.
-- Robert Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

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A masterpiece. Neil LaBute's debut feature is remarkable on every artistic front: brilliantly conceived, smartly photographed and filled with stinging dialogue that bristles with intelligence.
-- Oliver Jones, Details

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A vile, morally empty piece of business.
-- Jack Mathews, Newsday

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Its controversial subject matter -- the deliberate degradation of a woman for the sport of it -- may make a lot of viewers so angry that the film's strong points will be disregarded.
-- Ruthe Stein, San Francisco Chronicle



Chad gets Christine
into bed.
Sony Pictures Classics.


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                    Sony Pictures Classics

About Neil LaBute

Who: Writer/director of "In the Company of Men"

Age: 34

Marital Status: Married, two children

Home: Forty Wayne, Ind.

Hometown: Spokane, Wash.

Education: Brigham Young University, University of Kansas, New York University.

If you were stranded on an island with one CD and one book, what would they be: "Imperial Bedroom" by Elvis Costello; the book is a toss-up between "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (John Fowles) and "Possession" (Ann Rule)

Favorite food: Any and all with the possible exception of squash and beets.

Favorite TV show: "The Andy Griffith Show." Don Knotts is the single finest comedic actor this country has produced in the last half of this century.

Favorite movie: I could easily say "Manhattan" as anything.

Favorite scene in a movie: The scene where Michel Piccoli is going up the stairs of the villa near the end of "Contempt." I found myself reeling. It was intoxicating. The arithmetic and geometry of the frame along with the music by Georges Delerue ... I remember swooning. I haven't done that in awhile. Or, the end of "Manhattan."
Neil LaBute is the writer/director of what's becoming one of the most controversial films in years. Most critics have embraced "In the Company of Men." People either praise it or lambaste it.

"Men" features two corporate executives in their early thirties who are fed up with just about everything in life, especially women. During a six-week business trip, Chad and Howard seek a vulnerable woman they can wine-and-dine-and-dump. They'll laugh, she'll cry, and they'll feel vindicated. "She'll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week," Chad says to Howard. Their prey ends up being a deaf typist named Christine.

The movie has no special effects, no soundtrack, no multiple camera angles, no guns, no deaths, no graphic sex. LaBute shot the film in 11 days for just less than $25,000 in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he lives with his wife and two children. It won the Filmmakers Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival and helped LaBute strike a U.S. distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics. "It probably cost $250,000 in the end by the time you see it on screen," LaBute said.

On the Sony Pictures Classics Web site, LaBute discussed the origin of the screenplay: " 'Let's hurt somebody.' That line of dialogue was the first idea in my mind. I was attracted to the notion of premeditated agony conflicted on someone. I believe that you can kill characters only once, but you can hurt them every day. My model for the screenplay was restoration comedy. The script has a five-act structure and is centered around wealthy, blase characters who do unspeakable things because they feel like it. It's a simple story: boys meet girl, boys crush girl, boys giggle."

We talked briefly on the phone with LaBute, who was in a New York City hotel room awaiting a flight.

Chad and Howard talk about business and Christine on the roof.
Sony Pictures Classics
Q. There's a saying about "writing what you know." Do you know a Chad?
A. Not specifically. I think I have a strand of all the characters in me -- what parts do I chose to use and what parts do I chose to repress to make up my personality? Being a man, you have some insight to the operation of the wolf pack. It was more trying to create something that fell within the realm of possibility. In the end, you're making up fiction. My general sense from living around men all my life is that it wasn't so far off the mark that it became fantasy.

Q. You're a playwright, so I'm guessing you've never worked in an office like the one in your film. Where did those ideas come about the '90s business environment?
A. I did work for a computer company when I was just out of college in New York. I rode the subway and rode the train. Because of it being a computer company, I got the chance to go to a bunch of different kinds of offices. It wasn't just Wall Street behavior or lawyer behavior, it was men-at-work behavior. That's why I tried to keep the characters anonymous. Where they're from, where they went, or what they sold was not as important as the fact that they were at work.

Q. Aaron Eckhart, who plays Chad, was a college friend of yours at Brigham Young and appeared in several of your plays. How did you approach him for this role? Chad isn't exactly likable.
A. I went right to him. Actually, he was happy. He felt it was a good role, and that's the major requirement for a lot of actors. One has personal politics, but at the end of the day, an actor has to be really adjusted to have a sense of what's play and what's real. They know it's just makeup, made-up fun. He didn't have as many problems with the role as questions about how to play Chad and how he can keep him more interesting. If anything, Aaron wanted to push further to keep true to the character other than catering to the audience at all.

Q. I understand some people who've seen the movie have made comments to Aaron.
Howard and Christine
have lunch.
Sony Pictures Classics
A. At Sundance, a woman came up to him and said "I hate you." He told her that she's hating the character, hating Chad. She said, "No, I hate you." It's part of the beauty. It's a compliment to him as an actor. Aaron doesn't bring a lot of baggage -- the history of an actor that most people are aware of. There's not much distance between him and them and the role. They go straight to him as Chad. Often it's kind of joking, a tap on the shoulder. People have actually stopped him several times and said, "You're a bastard." He just has to suck it up and say thank you.

Q. And what about yourself? You created Chad.
A. After a screening, a woman came up to me and asked, "Why do you hate women so much?" I thought, "That's odd because I'm often accused of hating men so much from the movie." As far as Chad, at the end of the day, people will say, "The actor was good but I really hated that character." Eventually, the trail leads back here. Someone's going to say, "Somebody thought that up." I'm the one who made the words up.

Q. Did any of the dialogue you wrote change during filming?
A. It's a very liquid process, and it has to be. The words are there for a reason. I chose them very carefully. There has to be a logical or better reason before I change them. My maxim is "whatever works" whether it's the grip or an actor making a suggestion. At the end of the day, you're the one who has to live with those changes. I was rather frugal with changes. I had spent a lot of time preparing it one way. An off-handed comment from someone can be brilliant or useless.

Q. Was it hard to convince Stacy Edwards to play the role of Christine?
A. Stacy was in a play of mine about five years ago. It was quite a good performance. I put her in the old mental acting file as a person I'd like to work with again. I got that opportunity, and she stumbled into my life a few years later. She found Christine to be an interesting acting challenge. That's how she looked at the deaf aspect, an acting challenge. She was quite pleased with it. For most people, women have been pleased with the moral message of the film and the place that women have in the movie. That's been nice. It always hasn't been that way with all of my plays.

Q. Why would Suzanne be with a guy like Chad for four years?
A. She doesn't have the information. I can't fault her for not knowing. He works into the night to 2 in the morning deceiving people. In reality, if you're a good person and a trusting person, there is every chance that you could be deceived. She's being victimized. She doesn't realize who is lying in bed next to her.

Q. The only music in the film is at the beginning, end and at the start of each of the six weeks in the film. How would you describe that sound?
A. Ornette Coleman (jazz alto saxophonist) meets a train head on. It was also influenced by Elvis Costello's "Lover's Walk" (from the "Trust" album). My wife supplied some suggestions of African tribal music. She was born in South Africa. We lifted some saxophones from the background of "Last Tango in Paris." We kept playing this over the phone to some Canadian composers. We'd say, "Listen to some of this and now some of this." We fused our own unique brand of jungle jazz.

Q. Why no soundtrack or score?
A. That was a specific choice. I don't really like to underscore scenes and tell you how you should feel. As much as I love words, I love silence in movies as well.

Q. You didn't use any complicated camera angles. Many times the camera stayed in one place without a close-up. What was your purpose?
A. I tend to like the idea of having emotional material but looking at a distance. Having a clinician's eye on something that's brimming with drama. I like raising the questions and providing the story and letting the audience see what interests them. Their distance with Christine is a disadvantage for those two guys. We could only listen to Chad, we could not get close enough to really study him. Christine really had to study him to see what he's saying. We had to listen.

Q. The film was at the low end of a low-budget movie. Were you careful about the number of takes in a given scene?
A. Our average was probably in the three or four range. I do remember racing against the light to get the shot on the rooftop with the two guys. And the bane of existence for an independent film is the body mike. Sound is really a key. With that much dialogue, you definitely have to have good sound. It was a constant battle.

Q. What would you have done with a little more money?
A. I think my tendency would have been to widen the scope. In offices today, everything is compartmentalized -- a labyrinth of mazes on carpeted walkways. I would have made it more indicative of the isolation -- people just wandering by. It would have been nice to actually go out and buy the furniture. I had to get my furniture out of the house and get it back before my wife realized it was gone. But sometimes creating chaos helps fuel the film.

Q. How did it feel to win the Filmmakers Trophy at Sundance?
A. It was great. I was so surprised. It's a crap shoot anyway with awards and juries. You have no idea. That's the one that meant the most to me because it was from people there with a vested interest in winning. It's quite exceptional anytime your peers and people you think are good filmmakers say something about your work.

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