Sony Pictures Classics | Release Date: December 25, 2003
Generally favorable reviews based on 22 Ratings
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SpangleMar 13, 2017
One of the last films of his career finds director Robert Altman at his most stubborn. Often times, his films are criticized for not really having a plot. Instead, those films are character-driven. It is about the interactions someOne of the last films of his career finds director Robert Altman at his most stubborn. Often times, his films are criticized for not really having a plot. Instead, those films are character-driven. It is about the interactions some protagonist has with others and the situations they find themselves in that drive the film forward. Films such as California Split are admittedly quite plotless, but the interactions between the two protagonists on their gambling journey is what propels the film forward. Others, such as McCabe & Mrs. Miller, do have more of a plot, but still rely on the characters to move the film forward. The Company, however, is different. Altman refuses to give us characters or a plot. Yes, the film does pretend to focus on ballet dancer Ryan (Neve Campbell), her boyfriend Josh (James Franco), or company director Alberto (Malcolm McDowell), but very few scenes exist where they are the stars. Instead, the film is about the company. The group of dancers, their interactions, and the film plays out more like a documentary than a true drama.

Introducing us to Ryan and her family for no apparent reason, the half-baked character development is the film's biggest fault. Neve Campbell is fine in the role, but Ryan is hardly worthy of so much attention when the film flat out refuses to take it farther than showing us her family and boyfriend. The film would have turned out far better had they just focused on everybody else and the company as a whole, which it seems to want to do. Perhaps Altman could not get funding unless actual characters were added or something, but regardless, it does hold the film back as it just feels excessive and unnecessary. This could also be a writing issue, but even the writing seems to admit these characters are incredibly dry.

That said, the world this film drops you into is absolutely irresistible. Though I am not a dancer nor am I a fan of ballet, the intricacy of the performances on display here and the practice is impeccable. The film feels tense and dramatic with very little effort as you watch people battle it out for roles in a never-ending stream of performances. Merely watching a dancer practice or audition is incredibly tense, even when we have no idea who they are. There is a natural tension to this realistic display put forth by Altman's film that really elevates the film. But, the film is not nearly just the drama. It is also the interactions and camaraderie between those in the company. One woman "rents" out her place for fellow dancers and, one night, she goes around at night asking if somebody has an extra condom. It feels like an out of place scene in the film if you view it as being about Ryan, since she is not in the place at all. If you view it as merely a film about the company, its dancers, and its productions, it makes a whole lot more sense. It is an oddly charming sequence that shows that all of these people are in it together, with no questions asked. Though their families may not support them, the other dancers are ride or die.

While perhaps not the most engaging film on the surface, there is a lot to like about The Company. It may be Altman's least structured film, or at least one of them, but features a lot of late career flair that his earlier films (1980s) sometimes lacked. He is open to giving up scenes to just the choreography and letting the nameless dancers do their thing, which is to the film's benefit. It is a film about the ballet company and by the ballet company. Altman lets them do the talking, unfortunately the film does try to force Ryan and her dull boyfriend upon us, which is the film's main weakness. The film is about the company. Do not try and add some useless love interest and back story to a film that does not need either. Unfortunately, it did and we are left with a film that feels unfocused as a result of this divided approach between Ryan's story and then everybody else. This division is what holds the film back from being better, but even, it is a terrific odd little film that is not really slice of life or stream of consciousness, but more of a docudrama.
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