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Company (2004)  

Review: written 22 March 2007

Altman does the ballet world - "I hate pretty!"

This movie is not a documentary, neither does it have a story / narrative driving events. It is an undisputedly Altman-esque view of life in a successful ballet company, in this case the Joffrey Ballet Company.

This means that events simply unfold in a matter of fact and realistic way, with characters stumbling over phrases and talking over each other in a way that gradually convinces you this is a peek into real life rather than a `movie'. If ballet, in particular modern ballet, fascinates you, and you like Altman's style of direction, then this is the movie for you.

Having said that, if ballet does NOT fascinate, you may well be left cold by a movie which has no story to tell, but rather purports to show real life instead.

The performances are fantastic, as you would expect from Robert Altman. Malcolm McDowell is a treat as the ballet director.. a role that Roger Ebert astutely observed is very like Altman himself, overseeing the creative process with one eye always on the budget, and those around him subject to his acerbic put downs, or throwaway praises. More than once he shouts out `You're a genius!' while simultaneously walking out of the room and already thinking about something or someone else. During the ballet training, you can feel the dancers groan as he interrupts shouting out `What are you doing! You made it pretty! I HATE pretty!'.

Neve Campbell was the driving force behind getting the movie made. She trained in Canada as a ballet dancer, and put in 4 months of training to get in shape for this role. It was she who persuaded Altman to make the movie, after his initial disinterest. This makes it all the more remarkable how un star-like a vehicle this is for her. Her character is just one character within the company and never overshadows the pace and style of the movie.

What we get then, is snippets of real lives and loves of all the players of a ballet company, interspersed with occasionally lengthy scenes of the ballets themselves. The performances certainly are convincing, but the end result is an oddly dispassionate even when intimate view into the world of ballet.

This is not Altman at his best. I find he works best when there IS a plot and story, which distracts you from the fact that the movie is really about the people not the story. Such was the case in his previous movie, Gosford Park. Here, what you see is what you get and there are no layers to unwrap. Therefore, whether you enjoy the movie or not will depend greatly on your interest in the creative process on display, and in modern ballet itself.

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