The Company

on December 25, 2003 by Kevin Courrier
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"The Company" is a deeply flawed, yet deeply loving, tribute to the world of dance. Working with the co-operation of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Robert Altman takes us into the everyday workings of a ballet company--the rehearsals, the competitiveness, and the political maneuvering. What Altman doesn't supply, however, is a sustainable story with which to anchor this beautiful production.

Ry (Neve Campbell) is a gifted company member on the verge of becoming a principal dancer, yet we never get very deep into her conflicted life with boyfriend Josh (James Franco) and her family. In Robert Altman's best ensemble productions like "Nashville," "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," and, more recently, "Gosford Park," the lives of the characters and the culture they're part of commingle. Since there is very little of a dramatic story here, one ends up asking why "The Company" wasn't just simply a documentary on the Joffrey?

As a result, the performances are very uneven. Neve Campbell, who studied with the National Ballet of Canada, is an exquisitely expressive dancer without much of a role to fill. James Franco only gets to brood vacantly. Malcolm McDowell, on the other hand, gives the juiciest and most entertaining performance in the picture as Alberto, the company's artistic director. McDowell plays him as both creative genius and resident weasel, which is probably why Altman has such a buoyant affection for this crafty rascal. Altman also has an inmost fondness for the dancers. The company scenes, handsomely directed and choreographed, are graceful and sensually alive. Unlike "Moulin Rouge," with its maniacal pacing and cuisinart cutting, this film lets the dancers set the rhythms for each scene--and they're glorious. "The Company" is basically half-and-half--a supple movie about dance without a dramatic leg to stand on. Starring Neve Campbell, Malcolm McDowell, James Franco and the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Directed by Robert Altman. Written by Barbara Turner. Produced by David Levy, Joshua Astrachan, Neve Campbell and Robert Altman. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 112 min

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