THE GOOD BOSS- Review - We Are Movie Geeks



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Just in time for the big labor day holiday weekend comes a highly praised film set in the world of…, well, work. A big hustling factory to be precise. Now, while other films have focused on the folks on the “line”, the “cogs’ if you will. the working “stiff” average “Janes and Joes” punching the time clocks in dramas like NORMA RAE and comedies like OFFICE SPACE, well, this one’s very different as it takes a long look inside the ‘executive suite” and its occupant. This “big cheese” wears many hats, owner, manager, supervisor, but the tag he hopes that most of the workers bestow on him is “papa”. Really, he thinks of the business staff as a family with himself as the surrogate father (who gives out an allowance in the form of a paycheck). He knows that his position has gotten a “bad rap”, so he wishes to be thought of as THE GOOD BOSS.

Now, this tale doesn’t start during the work day. On a dark night in a city park in Spain, a group of Arab immigrant teenage men, laughing, teasing “shooting the breeze” suddenly are viciously attacked by a local gang who quickly emerged out of the shadows. Luckily the police arrive and pick up a young man who is separated from his violent pals. Cut to the next day, as the sun rises over a town mainstay, Blanco Basculas, a factory that manufactures all manner of scales. If it needs to be weighed, they’ve got the right product. It’s a longstanding family business, now run by the “latest-in-line”, fifty-something Julio Blanco (Javier Bardem). This morning he’s delivering a “pep talk” a few feet above the “work floor”, In ten or so days a team of local judges made up of business moguls, will inspect the factory to see if it’s worthy of a prestigious award. Later in the board room, several execs share a celebratory bottle of wine, though Julio’s eyes are glued to the work floor as a group of young interns is getting the “shop tour”. Actually, he’s fixated on one, the alluring young beauty called Liliana (Almudena Amor). Then this lovely day is spoiled by the unexpected arrival of recently discharged worker Jose (Oscar de la Fuente), who has brought his young children to embarrass Julio. He’s quickly ushered out, but Jose insists that he’ll “have his day”. The next morning Julio and his wife Adela (Sona Almarcha) enjoy a quiet breakfast by the pool while long-time factory worker Fortuna (Celso Bugallo), who has given up his Saturday, toils away at the pool’s faulty heater. Julio notices sadness in the older man’s withered face. After some prodding, Fortuna tells him that his teenage son is in jail (that opening sequence). Julio says that he will get him released and arrange employment at his wife’s dress shop. But that decision doesn’t free the factory from a flood of other problems. Production manager Miralles (Manolo Solo) is distracted due to his worry that his wife is having an affair. Julio thinks he can fix this, but he also sees that Jose has set up a “protest camp” in a public vacant lot just across from the plant’s entrance. Can Julio get things running smoothly, and keep Liliana out of his brain, to impress the judges and snag that coveted major award?

As he’s in the title role, the power of the film rests on Bardem’s broad shoulders. And to say he doesn’t falter is a bit of an understatement. Though most of the accolades for BEING THE RICARDOS were directed at her co-star, Bardem reminded us of his versatility, that he can play a smiling singing TV star as well as any cold-blooded killer. His Julio is well in the middle (well, maybe closer to Desi) since he projects an image to the people, and especially his staff, of a caring, overseeing daddy, one that always has the time to nudge someone back on to the “straight and narrow”. Bardem brings us “in”, to show the manipulator under the “mask” of patriarchal warmth. His irritation at his “unbalanced” life compels his passive-aggressive remarks to ease into seething threats. When his “gentle pushes” don’t work, he’s quick to use the “hammer”. His desire to have it “all” extends to his interest in the much-younger Liliana, who’s given a naive allure by Amor until her mask drops to reveal a ‘climber” who’s eager to use her “power”. This is unlike Fuente’s Jose, whose moral outrage quickly veers into obsession, as he sees himself as an “avenger of the oppressed”. Much of that mania is shared by Solo as Miralles, who believes his quest to find his wife’s lover will not affect his work, a mission that leads to his downfall. Also worth noting is the great comic work of Fernando Albizu as the bumbling security guard at the front gate, Roman, who becomes an unwitting alley to Jose while adding to Julio’s escalating frustration.

Writer/director Fernando Leon de Aranoa has crafted a most compelling comedy/drama that explores the way that “work-life: collides with “real life”, or “off hours”. Julio believes he can “mold” his workers into loyalty and efficiency by getting personally involved and leading them down the “right path”. But he finds out that these “family members aren’t the calibrated machinery, and will “go off the track” despite his best efforts. In the end, it’s his lust for glory, that award that has a spot on his display wall already reserved, and his lust for younger conquests, like the newest intern (an early scene hints that this is a habit for him), destroys the affable father figure persona he wants to project. All the sweater ensembles and sports jackets can’t contain or restrain the ruthless beast inside him. His method to “even out the antique scale sculpture at the factory entrance reveals the bad, bad man inside THE GOOD BOSS. Some of the balance allegories can get a bit heavy-handed (sorry), but Bardem’s terrific performance truly “tips the scales”.

3.5 Out of 4

THE GOOD BOSS is now playing in select theatres including Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinemas in St. Louis, MO

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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