An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

"The Good Boss" - movie review by Dan Webster

One of the most overused phrases is “we are family.” Over and above what Sister Sedge sang, that Philadelphia quartet being actual siblings, the notion of family is often used to instill a sense of togetherness among otherwise disparate groups brought together to achieve a collective goal.

Think of sports teams. The Pittsburgh Pirates used that very refrain, thanks to Sister Sledge, to help them win the 1979 World Series title.

But business, too, likes to trumpet the phrase. We may not pay you enough, we may not guarantee you the best medical coverage or even the security that your position will be around for long, but we are together in this capitalist enterprise. We are … family.

Those last three words are voiced by Julian Blanco, as played by Javier Bardem in the film “El Buen Patrón” (which, in English, means “The Good Boss”). As written and directed by the Spanish filmmaker Fernando de León Aranoa, Bardem’s Blanco actually seems to mean what he says.

Well, he does at first, anyway. Blanco is the owner of a company he inherited from his father. The company manufactures scales, a fact that works in subtext, especially when things begin to go wrong and Blanco is forced to make adjustments just to balance the situation in his favor.

When we first meet him, Blanco is giving a congratulatory speech to his employees. The occasion is more of a pep rally, though, as Blanco informs everyone that the company is one of three finalists in the running for a regional business award. Almost in passing, he mentions that sometimes being a family means making sacrifices.

And almost immediately we see what he means as one newly laid-off employee, Jose (played by Óscar de la Fuente) shows up demanding his job back. With his two children in tow, Jose ends up ensconcing himself on a spit of public land directly across from the company’s main entrance. Equipped with banners and a megaphone, he’s intent on proclaiming to the world that he’s been treated unfairly.

Step by step, it seems, Blanco’s world starts to fall apart. As, it seems, does his hope of gaining yet another plaque to add to the dozen or so awards that already hang in what basically is his house’s wall of fame.

Besides having the kind of privileged attitude so prevalent to people born on third base who claim to have hit a triple, Blanco is well connected. He can ask his town’s mayor for favors and expect them to be granted. Certain that he’s in the right, he doesn’t hesitate to interfere in the affairs of others.

And, yes, affairs is the right word. Because his head of production, Miralles (played by Manolo Solo) is being cuckolded, which is affecting his job, causing him to make bad decisions that are affecting the company business. Too, Blanco – although seemingly happily married – isn’t above having his own extra-marital fun with an attractive, far younger intern named Liliana (played by Almudena Amor).

As with almost everything else Blanco touches, including convincing a long-term employee to have his delinquent son handle a particularly touchy problem, his sexual dalliance will come back to haunt him. Which isn’t surprising, since Blanco is so used to getting his way that anything running counter to what he desires is, basically, unthinkable.

It takes, then, a talented actor to portray such a character, someone capable of playing a man so charmingly charismatic, yet so arrogantly hypocritical, and still elicit at least a touch of sympathy in us the audience. And Bardem, an Oscar winner for the 2008 Coen Brothers film “No Country for Old Men,” is the perfect choice. Bardem has always loomed large on the big screen, whether portraying the gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in 2000’s “Before Night Falls” or Desi Arnaz in last year’s “Being the Ricardos.”

As Blanco, he forges ever forward, even as the various members of his so-called family formulate their own schemes – one of whom might even be about to deliver a parting gift his patrón would never see coming.

Besides being a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, “Movies 101” host Dan Webster writes the Movies & More blog for Spokane7.com.