Run time: 112 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 20th May 2004
Box Office USA: $2.2M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Fresh: 91 Rotten: 38
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Chris O'Donnell as Jack McAuliffe, Alfred Molina as Harvey Torriti/The Sorcerer, Michael Keaton as James Jesus Angleton/Mother, Rory Cochrane as Yevgeny Tsipin, Alessandro Nivola as Leo Kritzky, Ulrich Thomsen as Starik Zhilov, Natascha McElhone as Elizabet Nemeth, Alexandra Maria Lara as Lili, Simon Callow as MI6 liaison officer Elihu
The title sequence of Robert Altman's "The Company," a fictional verite peek behind the curtain of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet, consists of a conceptual dance with rainbow lighting and iridescent strips of fabric used to create a constantly shifting web behind and among the lissome and lively dancers.
Their accompanyment is music seemingly harvested from electronic scales -- bloops and bleeps like something out of "Logan's Run." The cinematography provides the audience's perspective, as well as some shots from the back of the stage looking outward, some from just offstage, silhouetting performers in lighting from vertical scaffolds, and some from high within the scaffolding itself.
There are several such sequences throughout the film (they represent passages of time -- one performance for each season at the Ballet), but this first dance literally sets the stage. Altman is metaphorically announcing his intention to spy on every aspect of his subject from the locker rooms and practice barres to covetous company politics and interpersonal cattiness to calluses, injuries and affairs interfering with ambition.
Written by Barbara Turner ("Pollock," "Georgia") from a concept by actress and former ballerina Neve Campbell ("Scream," etc.), "The Company" also stars Campbell in the movie's ostensible main role as a talented lower-rung dancer who gets her due chance to move into a featured position when another girl is injured. But she's only the lead insomuch as Altman also peers in on snippets of her personal life -- a night job tending bar, a budding relationship with a cute young chef (James Franco), contending with her nervous, controlling busybody mother -- to personalize and personify what any underpaid chorus dancer toils through for his or her art.
Like the dances, many of the movie's emotions are implicit, conveyed with telling glances and other physical inflections, and as such, the pressure and strain underneath it all feels raw and unscripted. But the film has no arc -- it's heavy on ambiance, light on plot -- and the sparseness of the story requires an effort from the audience to ponder those elusive moods and feelings.
As with all Altman's work, "The Company" is a film of astutely potent moments (the dance numbers are all bold, unconventional and beautiful, save one daft show with red gorilla suits and other ridiculous costumes) and of nuanced performances. Tiny tell-tale gestures (the ways Campbell says, "Hi mom" as if she hopes that will be enough) give you glimpses into the souls of the characters, most of whom are habitually reticent from being under the thumb of the Ballet's reviled but respected director, played with patronizing, dismissive, arrogant aplomb by the fabulous Malcolm McDowell.
Without a particular interest in dance, however, the picture may not seem especially memorable, moving or entertaining. The furtive voyeuristic quality of its narrative -- in which Campbell pensively comes to see a life beyond the Joffrey -- is just enough to hold one's interest between the stage numbers.
But then, ironically enough, those numbers will probably be more interesting to those who don't have an interest in dance than those who do. I suspect regular ballet-goers will be distracted, if not annoyed, by the jumping around between perspectives during the performances, each of which were real Joffrey performances that seem as if they would be more riveting without the cinematic machination.