Sony // 2003 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // December 13th, 2004
"ALL THAT...went into this ballet!" -- Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell)
In Robert Altman's latest film, The Company, the director burns away all of his usual substance and leaves only his trademark style. Every filmmaking technique that we've come to know and love from Altman is present: the overlapping dialogue, the forever-moving camera, the long zooms, the use of an ensemble cast. Unfortunately, that's pretty much all there is to be found here -- the weight of his previous works is missing. There is such a thing as being too offhanded, too removed, and this movie proves it.
The Company is yet another film in which Altman explores a kind of subculture from the inside out. In Nashville, it was the country and western music scene; in The Player, it was Hollywood; in Ready to Wear (Prêt-à-Porter), it was the world of fashion. Here, Altman makes professional ballet his focus, observing a season in the life of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet. The cast of characters is too large to mention, as Altman doesn't simply focus on the dancers. We also meet choreographers, artistic directors, costume designers, money people -- both the artistic and business sides of the company are represented. A few characters manage to stand out, namely Neve Campbell's (Scream, Panic) dancer Ryan and the company's artistic director, Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell, Tank Girl), whose eccentric ways are made tolerable only by his brilliant vision.
Altman typically takes a kind of "overview" approach to his subjects; he's never weighed down by one particular character or story line. His camera floats around -- literally -- from scene to scene, character to character, conversation to conversation, until all of the pieces come together to add up to something larger. Even within those smaller moments, there's Something Bigger Going On -- Altman's dramatic content is rarely sacrificed in favor of density and atmosphere. With The Company, though, an overview is all we get. Altman has taken his usual observational approach a bit too far; we are forever observing from a distance, never entering the characters' space enough to become involved in their stories. When tragedy does strike -- as when a dancer's entire career is suddenly ended by a random injury -- there is too much distance for us to care. This may very well be Altman's point -- injuries occur, careers end, life goes on -- but it's about the only emotionally weighty incident in the film, and it simply doesn't register.
Neve Campbell is the star of the film, but we never learn anything about the character she's playing. She even receives story credit on the film, but I'm not sure I could discern a story in The Company. There are not even a dozen smaller stories, as in Altman's brilliant Short Cuts. What there is a series of moments, casually passing by without ever really asserting themselves. And what exactly drew James Franco (Spider-Man) to the project, save for the prospect of working with Altman? He stars in the film as Campbell's burgeoning romantic prospect, but their relationship is never really developed. It's almost as though it's been included to tell us that "sometimes, dancers date." I could have figured that out on my own. If you're going to include the dancers' personal lives, why not make a point about them beyond the fact that they exist?
The Company comes to DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures, and it looks and sounds fantastic. The film was shot on High Definition video, but not so as you would know it -- the colors have the rich, deep saturation normally found only on film, and the disc handles them expertly. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 -- Altman delivers gorgeous widescreen compositions -- and has been enhanced for widescreen TVs. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is a pleasant surprise as well, making unusually good use of Altman's typically dense soundtrack.
There are only a handful of extras on hand, most of which focus on the film's multiple dance sequences: a featurette about dance, a few additional ballet sequences, and the option of watching only the movie's dance scenes consecutively. The best extra on the disc is the commentary track by the director and the film's star, Neve Campbell. Altman always records excellent commentaries, but he's usually flying solo; it's amusing to hear how much the presence of Campbell lightens him up to the point of goofiness.
None of this should suggest that The Company is pointless, because no Altman film could ever be pointless (though Ready to Wear skirted dangerously close). This is not the director making a mistake, as I have no doubt the film came out exactly as he had intended. Ballet is the star here -- the work that goes into it, the creative forces surrounding it, the world within which its participants move -- and on that level, the film is a success. It has numerous ballet sequences, all gorgeously photographed and beautifully executed. As a depiction of the creative process (here it is dance, but that might have stood in for anything), the movie works. What it doesn't do -- at least, not for me -- is involve the viewer in any non-objective way. It's dramatic film as documentary.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary Featuring Director Robert Altman and Actor Neve Campbell
* "Making-Of" Featurette
* Extended Dance Sequence
* Isolated Dance Sequences
* Featurette: "The Passion of Dance"
* Theatrical Trailer
* Bonus Trailers
* Official Site