The Good Boss, Spain’s entry to the 94th Academy Awards, was not on my list of movies to watch pre-Labor Day. That was, until a fellow critic described the movie as an answer to this question: what would have happened if Javier Bardem’s sociopathic character in No Country for Old Man had become a corporate manager instead?
That line immediately convinced me I had to watch this drama, which is written and directed by Fernando León de Aranoa.
It also set unfair expectations that left me wanting more than what is on screen.
Bardem stars as Blanco, the owner of a successful company that manufactures industrial scales. He’s a friendly boss who believes in family and loyalty, at least when it benefits him. Never unpleasant, he nonetheless is willing to part with or destroy longtime friends and employees to achieve his means.
Bardem is intoxicating to watch on screen; he’s frighteningly good, with every moment seeming to sway with every word and charismatic grin he conveys. And yet his character is an empty vessel, a corporate sociopath who says the things he needs to say and does the things he needs to do to appease those around him… again, if it advances his status or business or personal desires. He’s perfectly cast in the role.
The Good Boss is well made and well directed, though its relatively low key stakes and methodically subtle storytelling make for a “take it or leave it” reaction. Too little really happens to fill its two-hour runtime, and its devotion to little character moments never amount to what I would describe as entertainment (perhaps the most subjective word of all). León de Aranoa layers on the complications for his central character, but when the character is a narcissist with limited real emotion, empathy, or sense of remorse (let alone stress), none of those complications come off as real conflict.
When the movie wraps, things have happened, but to what end? To what purpose? In hindsight, they feel like blips on the radar, momentary challenges that Blanco likely forgot about the next day. It’s just hard to care about anything that happens here.
I would have liked to have seen more of Almudena Amor, who plays intern Liliana. She proves to be a formidable antagonist to Blanco, yet León de Aranoa treats her character more like a subplot than a counterforce. Had The Good Boss fixated on these two circling each other, he may have found fire.
Nonetheless, The Good Boss is a great character study. For cinephiles looking to feast on yet another spectacular Javier Bardem performance, in which he plays a compellingly complex character, León de Aranoa offers up plenty to enjoy.
Just don’t expect what I was expecting when I hit play.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.