The Good Boss

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

5/5 (1)

The beginning scene of Fernando León de Aranoa’s “The Good Boss,” shows a well-oiled manufacturing company with an affable smiling boss. The walls are immaculate and the ceilings are high. There is air conditioning and the employees are pleasant. But with a second look, things are not what they seem. 

This excellent character study of a company head under fire has elements of the social commentary films of the 1970s. The singular tone of the film is sly and potent with echoes of Kubrick.

Blanco (Javier Bardem) is the boss of a company that produces Scales of Justice for court offices and such. To outsiders he always smiles. He is big and broad shouldered. He comes across as everyone’s dad. His workers adore him and Blanco surrounds himself with old friends.

Yet after ten minutes of seeing Blanco, we realize that he is beset by trouble. The recently-let-go Jose (Óscar de la Fuente) won’t stop protesting and a beloved employee Miralles (Manolo Solo) is dysfunctional at his job due to marital trouble.

The outside scales in the sun are never balanced and they appear to mock Blanco’s efforts.

He is so vexed by Jose’s social protests that he decides to meddle in the personal affairs of others just to exert some male control.

Out of the blue Blanco initiates an affair with a young intern (Almudena Amor). Meanwhile Jose grows more and more aggressive.

There are some Shakespearean touches: Blanco goes to a somber dinner with future enemies and when the scales are covered with excrement (either by avian or human) Blanco cannot remove the shit from his hands. Soap and water come to nothing. Macbeth indeed.

With each pointed scene, the film underscores a man trying to hide his dark shadow with jokes and chuckles. Bardem is masterful, highlighting a cold menace behind familial mirth and comedy. This is one of the actor’s best roles—he is an absolute laughing lycanthrope. Javier is at his best portraying a host of congenial monsters and he does it here once more, delivering a paternal grin with the shades of a Halloween pumpkin.

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