Synopsis: Awaiting a visit by a committee that could give his company an award for excellence, the owner of an industrial scales manufacturing business tries to resolve any problems from his workers in enough time.
Stars: Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almudena Amore, Oscare de la Fuente, Sonia Almarcha
Director: Fernando León de Aranoa
Running Length: 116 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: There are some movies that I crave to watch again because of a memorable performance. As much as I love 2012’s Skyfall for being more than just a fantastic James Bond film, it’s Javier Bardem’s role as a sinister villain Silva that always gets me excited for a viewing. He doesn’t appear until a good chunk of the movie is over, but the whole aura noticeably changes when he does. In the same breath, I should also say that I’d love to revisit 2007’s Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men but struggle to get up the nerve because Bardem’s Oscar-winning role as a psychotic killer gave me such nightmares the first (and only) time I’ve seen it.
While he’s a highly celebrated member of Hollywood’s A-list, I still get the impression that Bardem is underappreciated, considering his talent. He’s enlisted to play many dramatic roles and plenty more that play on his skill for menace. Still, there are more shades to him than we’ve seen so far here in the U.S. That’s why I hope more people get to see Bardem in a film like The Good Boss, writer/director Fernando León de Aranoa’s cutting comedy that gives the actor one of his best and funniest roles yet. It’s not a laugh riot of a film but a slyly humorous poison dart takedown of a flawed corporate culture with a top-down mentality.
Julio Blanco (Bardem, Dune) believes that to run a successful business, you have to treat everyone like they are a member of your family. You welcome them, shelter them from the outside world, and allow them space to make mistakes. If you must separate, it’s painful for everyone involved, but it will ultimately be best for the family. Manufacturing scales and regularly recognized for service excellence, Basculas Blanco has thrived but is at a pivotal stage with an upcoming inspection that could lead to recognition in the industry and significantly increase its worldwide presence. There is no room for any mistakes, especially this week.
Naturally, Araona’s script opens right as situations in Julio’s professional and personal life begin to crack. A disgruntled former employee has taken up residence on the land outside the plant to demonstrate against his firing, an unsightly reminder on Julio’s daily drive that it’s not one big happy family. His oldest friend and production coordinator, Miralles (Manolo Solo, The Invisible Guardian), is distracted by marital problems and careless errors, causing a hungry underling to question why loyalty should trump performance. Worst of all, Julio’s long-standing penchant for bedding his pretty interns comes back to bite him hard when the newest fling (Almudena Amor, The Grandmother) won’t be pushed aside so easily, potentially causing trouble for Julio and his wife (Sonia Almarcha).
At first, juggling several storylines and characters appears to be leading The Good Boss to a familiar misery with the expected foibles that come with infidelity and workplace politics. However, in Bardem’s hands, these situations take on unforeseen challenges and become interesting dissections of business and business culture. We see this towering figure as the confident head of the company who knows more about the output of goods than what goes on to make it all happen. As much as Julio proclaims about promoting a familial atmosphere and allegiance to the company, his instincts are always to serve himself first.
It would have been easy to create Julio as a man wearing masks, one for the public and one (or more) for the private, but Bardem keeps tremendous control over his character. Only once does he show a major fissure in his demeanor, and it’s a scary preview of what could happen if he ever were to drop his well-protected armor. That control is challenging to pull off and remain charming, but Bardem has his character figured out, allowing the entirety of the work to feel natural. He’s surrounded by a terrific cast of supporting characters, all providing distinct roadblocks or doors to Julio’s character getting what he wants.
I know The Good Boss hopes to be considered for Spain’s official entry as the Best International Feature at the Academy Awards. Based on Bardem’s performance and Araona’s witty script, it would fit as a classy entry to the category. Even without a distinction of that level, it’s an intriguing watch. Not for how different the business culture is in Spain (I don’t mean to make it sound like a stuffy homework assignment, it’s far from that) but how it weaves in that familial aspect we often overlook in our dealings.