Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Company (2003)
"You're all so pretty. You know how I hate pretty."- Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell)
Stars: Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell, James Franco
Director: Robert Altman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some nudity and sexual content
Run Time: 01h:52m:04s
Release Date: 2004-06-01
DVD ReviewRobert Altman has always been something of a renegade—an anarchic force directing television episodes in the 1950s and early 1960s, the eminence grise of the generation of filmmakers (Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese) who came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s, the lone wolf working not necessarily against the mainstream, but engaging in some sort of parallel play, off on the side doing his own thing. For years now, appearing in an Altman film has been a badge of honor for any actor; for decades, his best movies have been finely etched portraits of communities and subcultures, ranging from the world of country music (Nashville), to an English manor house between the wars (Gosford Park), to Hollywood (The Player) to Carver soup (Short Cuts). So at first blush, he seems like exactly the right director to make a film about the insular world of a ballet company, territory that has been ceded over the years to movies like The Red Shoes and The Turning Point. But The Company is far from Altman's finest hour; it's not as tedious as, say, Ready to Wear, but you'll probably really have to love the dance to love this movie.
Great actors have routinely sublimated themselves to the greater good in Altman pictures, and so it's a little surprising to see the prominence of Party of Five alumna Neve Campbell here—not only does she star, but she's got screenwriting and producing credits on this picture, too, and though she has talent, she's yet to demonstrate the ability to carry a movie on her own. She plays Ry, a dancer in the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, and what story there is revolves around her: shortly after we meet her, she takes over as the principal dancer in a piece choreographed by the legendary Lar Lubovitch; she and all her colleagues are entwined in no small amount of internecine politics and romance; she deals with her family, a new boyfriend, and especially with the manager of the ballet company. The film works best in showing us the inner workings of the company as an institution: the fierce competition for status and attention, and how so very little (an injury, the whim of a choreographer, the ravages of time) can quickly knock you a few rungs down the ladder. These dancers are at once artists and athletes, and have to deal with the perils of being both: the drudgery and exhaustion that comes along with the inspiration in making art; the necessity of pushing your body harder, farther and longer than it cares to go in an effort to perform.
All of that works well in the movie on a very general level, but Altman lets us down when it comes to specifics. Ry meets Josh, a chef, and the film is smart and empathic about the promise, the thrill of the beginning of love—but you also find yourself asking: who are they? Campbell doesn't get much to do (she can blame herself, in part), and James Franco, as her new boyfriend, does even less—you can see the idea, a look at what happens when an outsider is parachuted into this hermetically sealed world, but you've got no idea what it all means to anyone involved. A little more than halfway through the movie, the company has a Christmas party, highlighted by the dancers offering parodies of one another and of much of what we've seen in the film so far; these aren't very sharply drawn, and serve only to remind us how little we're invested in the story.
In a role even more thankless than Campbell's or Franco's is Malcolm McDowell, who plays the artistic director of the company; his signature is always wearing something that's canary yellow (a shirt, a scarf), and unfortunately, that's about all he gets to do. McDowell brims with attitude, and can play the diva with the best of them; he allegedly puts the fear of God into his dancers, but the movie lets us down but never showing him do anything. Where is his genius, his innovation, his awe-inspiring talent? It's suggested or implied, but it's not on screen, and so we come to think of him not as brilliant, but merely as imperious. (McDowell's uneven attempt at a Midwestern accent doesn't help much, either.)
As you might expect, the film includes a couple of long dance sequences, which are well shot but not particularly innovative. Things don't get wrapped up in a neat little package—in Robert Altman movies, they never do—but aside from a few stray moments of empathy and insight, there's not much here that will stay with you.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: A pretty sharp transfer, and at home Altman's favored shooting style, a moving camera, plays out well. Especially artful is his camerawork in the many rehearsal rooms that seemingly have floor-to-ceiling mirrors everywhere.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Dynamics are a little hinky; some of the dialogue can be hard to understand (and there are no English-language subtitles to provide a boost), and occasionally the music can be overbearing, especially in the dance sequences. And to listen to this movie, you'd better be a big-time Rodgers and Hart fan, as you'll hear just about every cover of My Funny Valentine, ranging from Chet Baker to Elvis Costello to the Kronos Quartet.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
10 Other Trailer(s) featuring Big Fish, Bon Voyage, The Cuckoo, The Fog of War, Masked and Anonymous, Mona Lisa Smile, Respiro, Something's Gotta Give, The Triplets of Belleville, The Company soundtrack CD
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Robert Altman, Neve Campbell
Extras Review: Altman and Campbell team up for a chatty though not especially informative commentary track; they do display a fondness for the project and for one another, which seems genuine and is nice to hear. Campbell initiated the undertaking years before with screenwriter Barbara Turner; Altman was their one and only choice to direct. The director displays nothing less than downright hostility to plot, which is no surprise if you've seen his other movies or listened to other commentaries he's recorded; if he wants to chuck the Aristotelian unities, that's his business, but the behavior in this movie isn't finely observed enough to hold our attention for close to two hours, I'd suggest.
A making-of featurette (07m:09s) is standard studio piffle, with Campbell, McDowell, Altman, screenwriter Barbara Turner, and director of photography Andrew Dunn; The Passion of the Dance is more of the same, though here the topic of discussion is the dancers, who are seen but not heard. An extended dance sequence (01m:52s) is a game of Can You Top This; there's also an option to play just the dance sequences from the feature.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsA spirited and professional effort from a great American director, The Company is only successful in fits and starts, and there's not much coherence to it as a whole. Recommended more for dance aficionados than for those looking for a great Robert Altman movie.
Jon Danziger 2004-12-02