Tough love

In the Company of Men is one brutal valentine

In the Company of Men belongs to Malloy, a nebbish character actor and veteran of films by Robert Altman and Alan Rudolph. As Howard, Malloy transmogrifies from a cute, twitchy mouse into a rather vicious trapped rat as his emotions ricochet out of control. His character completes an arc that constitutes this film's buried moral lesson. He winds up choking on the shred of decency that should've nourished him in the first place.

Filmgoers are accustomed to seeing villains pay for their dastardly deeds, so much so that we angrily assume an evildoer who appears to get off scot-free has the director's blessing. In the Company of Men proves that portraying wanton cruelty, then allowing ticketbuyers to process it without moral guidance from the filmmakers, can be the most effective route to audience empathy. By refusing to supply satisfying, simplistic comeuppance, Labute makes sure the last sound we hear is the echoing sob of a woman scorned. It registers far more powerfully than any happy ending ever would.

In the Company of Men.
Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, Stacy Edwards. Written and directed by Neil Labute. Opens August 15.

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