Javier Bardem is one of the greatest actors of our time, whether he’s playing the psychopathic killer in Anton Chigger’s “No Country for Old Men” or the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls.”
You can add Julio Blanco in “The Good Boss” to those standout performances. The movie, directed by Spain’s Fernando Leon de Aranoa, is a slick satire of capitalism, as Blanco (Bardem) schemes to win a coveted governmental good-business award for his company, Blanco Scales, which makes precision instruments for weighing cattle and just about anything else.
Blanco inherited the company from his father, and he frequently addresses his factory workers as family. Though married, he especially has a fondness for the young female interns who move through his factory regularly. He calls these interns his daughters.
The plant manager, Miralles (Manuel Solo), is apparently an old family friend, but Miralles has become increasingly erratic at work. It turns out that the manager thinks his wife is having an affair. And he eventually blames that fear for his repeated screwups at work. Then Blanco discovers that Miralles is not exactly free from fault in the marital bed.
All of this distresses Blanco, who wants his factory to be in tiptop shape when a committee comes to visit and see how the factory works.
But that’s only the beginning of Blanco’s problems. He has recently fired one of his workers, Jose (Oscar de la Fuente), who has rejected any severance pay and has set up camp on a public lot across from the factory, where he yells through a bullhorn at Blanco as he arrives for work every day. Jose also has huge, unflattering banners at his camp. This will not look good for the awards committee, and Blanco keeps trying to get authorities to remove Jose, to no avail.
And then there’s Blanco’s lasciviousness, which is directed at a new female intern, Liliana (Almudena Amor). This leads to even more complications, in part because Liliana has a big old secret.
All of this venality is part and parcel of director de Aranoa’s satirical critique of Spanish capitalism, but the workplace toxicity will be familiar to almost any American worker.
And that raises the question: Why would anyone want to spend two hours watching a movie about workplace toxicity, when we go to the movies to escape just such things? Well, the answer is Bardem. He and his director have an incredibly wry humor, which is sometimes infuriating but mostly entertaining.
Bardem has widened his range from dramatic roles to comedy in “The Good Boss,” and he’s a revelation. Perhaps the best scene is when he is trying to balance the scales at the entrance of his factory, only to discover that he has stuck his hand in Jose’s feces.
The unbalanced scales at the entryway are a continuing embarrassment to Blanco throughout the movie. He eventually balances those scales with a secret bullet. Yes, Blanco is a cheat, in more ways than one. And “The Good Boss” runs a family business that’s as dysfunctional as can be. Blanco says his scales represent justice and balance.
But employees are disposable. If that’s not a relevant commentary on current capitalism, then you haven’t been paying attention.
“The Good Boss” opens Sept. 2 at theaters in Austin.