The Company

Cast:
Neve Campbell as Ry
Malcolm McDowell as Alberto Antonelli
James Franco as Josh
Barbara E. Robertson as Harriet
William Dick as Edouard
Susie Cusack as Susie
Marilyn Dodds Frank as Ry’s Mother
John Lordan as Ry’s Father
Mariann Mayberry as Stepmother
Rick Peeples as Stepfather
Yasen Peyankov as Justin’s Mentor
Davis C. Robertson as Alec
Deborah Dawn as Deborah
John Gluckman as John
David Gombert as Justin

Analysis:
After four decades of making movies, Robert Altman may be one of the country’s most well respected directors, creating filmmaking experiences that have challenged moviegoers and redefined the medium. His career points have included the 1970 film M*A*S*H*, which spawned a hit television series in the 70′s, and three ground-breaking dramas for which he received Oscar nominations as director: Nashville in 1976, The Player in 1993, and Short Cuts in 1994. In 2001, Altman directed the highly acclaimed British ensemble murder mystery, Gosford Park, which earned him his sixth Oscar nomination. The Company is another decidedly different turn in his incredibly varied career, but it’s also a film that harks back to some of his more esoteric work, like Short Cuts.

Based on a premise by the film’s producer and star Neve Campbell, The Company is a docudrama about the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Campbell’s character, Ryan, is an up and coming dancer, on the verge of becoming a lead dancer in the company, but her complicated lifestyle, including a new chef boyfriend, played by James Franco, threatens to get in the way of success.

What makes the film interesting is that there are very few real actors, with the majority of the players being the actual dancers in the Joffrey Ballet. This adds a great degree of realism to the movie, as you really believe you’re watching the life of one of the dancers. Campbell studied ballet before she became a regular on the FOX drama, “Party of Five”, and appearing in Wes Craven’s Scream films. To prepare for the role, Campbell trained for six months, immersing herself in the Joffrey experience to become more a part of the established dance troupe. Her hard work paid off, because her dance performances are impressive, especially a memorable outdoor performance which is threatened by a dangerous thunderstorm.

While The Company gives Campbell a chance to show off her impressive dance skills, her acting chops aren’t quite so lucky. With a very slim story to work with, Ryan’s character has very little depth, as the film follows her everyday life, which consists mainly of rehearsing, dancing and working as a waitress in a seedy disco. The burgeoning romance with Franco might serve some purpose–possibly to create a distraction from her tough rehearsal schedule?-but nothing ever happens in the relationship to make that very clear. A fight or a break-up would probably have been a bit contrived, but at least it would have created some much-needed drama.

The best parts of the film show the behind-the-scenes pretensions and politics of a modern dance company, including the preparation for some of the performances that are shown later. Parts of the movie are comical, including the outlandish situations that arise from the production of a new age ballet called “The Blue Snake”, as the choreographer tries to get his ideas across to an obviously disinterested dance troupe.

We are also made privy to some of the off-stage antics of the rest of the company, mainly comprised of overly active sex lives and living in poverty. The only real drama comes from the chance of a dancer falling or injuring themselves, potentially ending careers, but even when that does happen, we never see any of the long-term ramifications.

At the center of the company and the movie is the company’s crusty artistic director, Alberto Antonelli, played by Malcolm McDowell, whose presence on the screen is commanding, as he barks orders, mixing harsh criticism with the highest of praise. Always welcome on screen, McDowell’s performance tends to be one of the saving graces when the film gets bogged down. That said, it’s hard to believe him as an Italian American–a point driven home needlessly in a scene where his character gets a commendation–since his clearly Scottish Accent slips into conversations.

Overall, the movie is erratic with too many ideas and subplots, more than a few of which are left unresolved as the movie simply ends. It makes for a rather unsatisfying experience, as one wonders why certain characters or situations were introduced in the first place. The fact that none of the lead characters go through any sort of change, either good or bad, makes the movie seem pointless.

On the other hand, the mastery of Robert Altman as a director in evident in almost every scene of what might have been a rather underwhelming movie otherwise. The entire movie is beautifully shot, even in the most mundane dialogue sequences. The dance numbers, showcasing the Joffrey Ballet doing what they do best, are absolutely stunning. They are the high points of the movie, as Altman’s ability to capture every nuance of the dance troupe’s breathtaking performances is impressive.

Likewise, the film’s soundtrack is lovely, with some interesting choices for musical accompaniment to the dance numbers. The song, “My Funny Valentine” becomes Ryan’s de facto musical theme, performed throughout the film by a variety of artists including Elvis Costello, and a more classical approach by the Kronos Quartet. This alone makes it a soundtrack to try to seek out.

Whether you’re a fan of the ballet or not, the art form might seem a bit more palatable after watching the beautifully shot performance pieces and learning a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a solid movie with a compelling story, The Company will probably leave you disappointed. Instead of an insightful drama set amidst the inner workings of a major dance company, Altman and Campbell have created a film experience with only a little more depth than the Madonna concert film, Truth or Dare.

The Company opens in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day with a possible expansion in the New Year.

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