If you’re among those tempted by The Great Resignation, “The Good Boss” sees you. Your company is not your family. You probably don’t need to be in the office five days a week. And the scale is always tipped in favor of someone higher up, as writer-director Fernando Léon de Aranoa would like you to believe. And with the help of a terrific Javier Bardem, he makes a pretty good case.
Bardem’s Blanco is the CEO of Básculas Blanco, a Spanish company that manufactures industrial scales. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor that slots right into an unsubtle script, but Bardem’s performance keeps us watching all the way to the end.
We know Blanco considers himself a good boss because he tells everyone at every opportunity. He’s the capo of his company, generously doling out advice, forgiveness and favors to every employee who comes on bended knee.
The movie is set during an important week for Blanco — he’s competing against two other companies for “the Oscar of scales,” an award he’s fully determined to win. Unfortunately for him, however, humans can’t be calibrated as easily as his own products. One recently-fired employee is staging a very loud protest outside his company gates. Another keeps screwing up orders because his divorce is distracting him. And the front-gate guard, who needs to be the initial face of the firm, can’t be trusted to make a single sane decision.
Though the hits come one after another, Blanco’s bemused benevolence lasts long enough to feel charming. He seems to mean it when he talks about his bond with the staff, and he backs it up like a loving, if long-suffering, paterfamilias.
But… why are all the interns beautiful young women? Does he seem just a little too edgy when someone challenges his supremacy? And how far is he actually willing to go to win this award?
De Aranoa structures the movie like an increasingly black comedy, an approach that gains in impact as the action slowly swerves away from the visuals. Regardless of the drama unfolding in front of us, each brightly-shot, snappily-edited scene is accentuated by Zeltia Montes’ cheeky score. So as the awards week wears on, and Blanco’s sheen starts to rub a bit thin, we have to think twice about what we’ve seen. He’s so jovial that when he calls his team “one big family,” it’s easy to miss the casual joke about how the interns are his “property.”
Because the script is the weakest element, the movie does feel too long — we get de Aranoa’s point well before the pointed finale. But the film’s visual polish is perfectly matched by Bardem’s seamless turn as El Patron. This is really a one-man show, with the supporting characters and actors existing as planets that revolve around his sun. The primary exception, a new intern (Almudena Amor), who may be Blanco’s match, is written and played with a self-consciousness that sputters against Bardem’s subtlety.
What makes Blanco so interesting is his casually unquestioned confidence. He fully believes he deserves the titular accolade, and since he does everything required to earn it, so does almost everyone else. Bardem eases into this multilayered character luxuriously, wearing Blanco’s easygoing smile as comfortably as his casual, man-of-the-people shirtsleeves. Unlike the memorably unique rogues Bardem has embodied in the past — “No Country for Old Men”’s Anton Chigurh leading the list — we’ve met this man before. He’s a family friend, a colleague, maybe even a boss of our own. It’s mesmerizing, in fact, to watch such a powerful actor underplay so effectively. The more familiar Blanco feels, the more unsettling he becomes.
“The Good Boss” opens in select US cities Aug. 26 and nationwide Sept. 2.