The lead actor gives a class in reptile charisma as the sleazy boss of a small town company, although Fernando León de Aranoa’s tragicomedy occasionally drags.
This workaday parody of corporate malfeasance and alienated capitalism are acceptable, but the outstanding selling point is an amazingly slick and slimy performance by Javier Bardem.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the film’s most fitting description. Bardem dominates the screen in a role that makes use of his ability to combine smarmy charm with reptilian repugnance. He is reuniting with writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa, with whom he made the highly acclaimed Mondays in the Sun in 2002 and the biographical crime drama Loving Pablo in 2017. Both of these films were directed by Fernando León de Aranoa.
He may be all smiles, but Bardem’s antihero hides petty menace behind his executive glasses. On top of that, he has a bland paternalist haircut that strangely conjures the pudding-bowl killer from No Country for Old Men during what would presumably be his “silver fox” stage.
In the film, The Good Boss, Javier Bardem plays Blanco, the smooth-talking head of a provincial company that manufactures industrial scales and that claims to treat its workforce like family. The film’s director has described the film as both “a tragicomic tale of a worn-out labour ecosystem” and “the reverse angle shot of Mondays in the Sun.”
Bardem plays Blanco in the film. When we first see Blanco, he is in the middle of giving an address to the soldiers that is intended to boost their morale. However, it becomes clear almost immediately that the entire thing was an act – a condescending performance designed to win an award for “business excellence” from the local government.
Blanco’s wall of prizes is already groaning with awards, but there is still room for this final piece of the puzzle to complete Blanco’s quest for self-aggrandizement. If Blanco is the only one who can present an image of equilibrium and tranquilly to the panel of judges, then he is the deserving recipient of the award.
Yet beneath the surface, turmoil brews, with Manolo Solo’s faithful production manager Miralles dropping the ball because of marital problems (which Blanco tries to resolve via an ill-fated sojourn in a nightclub), and with long-term employee Jose (scar de la Fuente) setting up a bedraggled protest camp outside the plant after being laid off due to cutbacks, which caused him to lose his home, his family, and his marbles. Blanco
There is also the issue of Blanco’s own inappropriate behavior in the past. An early scene economically establishes his predatory habit of seducing and then abandoning young women who fall into his employ, laying the groundwork for an excruciating liaison with an intern whose identity he carelessly fails to the divine, with toe-curling dinner-party consequences.
An early scene economically establishes his predatory habit of seducing and then abandoning young women who fall into his employ. Blanco may assert that his business is nothing more than an extension of his own family, but it is quite evident that his well-practiced propensity for lying and keeping secrets has no bounds whatsoever.
This pillar of respectability who blathers sonorously about serving “the community” has the morals of a snake, and it doesn’t matter if they’re at home or at work.
Blanco, who is not beyond using a bullet to do precisely that, claims that “sometimes you need to fool the scale to acquire the right weight,” and he is not above using a bullet to do so. In point of fact, The Good Boss does not so much tease out its fundamental balancing metaphor as stamp it firmly into the ground.
This is evidenced by the off-kilter exhibit by the factory gate, which never fully aligns to the broader theme of justice being not so much blind as dumb. This is not a subtle point. Meanwhile, ridiculous comedic set pieces (such as the security guard’s increasingly poetic attachment to the rhyme and metre of Jose’s placard slogans) rub shoulders with more sinister but still slapstick-inflected subplots, which leave Blanco screaming at his own shit-stained reflection – the void staring into the void.
The Good Boss received a record-breaking 20 nominations at the 2022 Goya awards, including wins for best film, best director, best actor, best original screenplay, and best score. The Good Boss went on to represent Spain at the 94th Academy Awards, beating out other contenders such as Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers.
The composer Zeltia Montes, whose resume includes such diverse documentaries as “Delicate Balance” and “Sad Hill Unearthed,” provided a sprightly note of arch metronomy that somewhat reminded me of Michael Nyman’s strict-tempo themes for Peter Greenaway’s “The Draughtsman’s Contract.” The last of these is particularly deserving of praise, and the composer’s work deserves special recognition.
That’s a very different movie, I’ll grant you that, but this one and that one share a dyspeptic type of social satire that’s filtered through an increasingly absurdist sheen of funereal humor.