In the new film “El buen patrón” (“The Good Boss”), Javier Bardem continues to prove he is one of modern cinema’s finest actors. With pure charisma and the tightest of grasp regarding the depth of his character, Bardem crafts one of the most natural and powerful creations of his career as Julio Blanco, the owner of a successful Spanish factory that manufactures industrial scales.
In the clever and deceptive moment where we first meet the character, Blanco seems to have a fatherly aura towards his employees. The company is up for regional government award for business excellence and the jefe is thanking his “troops”. His manner is entrancing and seductive, but a whispered moment with a younger female employee betrays our trust in this man.
As the screenplay begins to reveal, this is a man who, once you can no longer serve any purpose for him, will throw you aside, but even as this self-serving man does whatever it takes to keep his business in the running for the award, his life (both personal and professional) begins to spiral out of control.
The factory’s production manager and Blanco’s childhood friend Miralles (Manolo Soto) is on the outs with his wife, which is causing him to screw up production at work. Blanco treats him to a night out with drink and female companionship that ends up doing more harm than help.
A recently fired employee named Jose (Óscar de la Fuente) has set up camp outside the factory in a round-the-clock protest that becomes increasingly dangerous.
Finally, Blanco’s sexual obsession with young intern Liliana (Almadena Amor) will stretch his emotional stability beyond what he can handle, bringing him down from his ever-so-high horse.
Writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa is quite talented at dramatic narrative ripe with drama that should be both suspenseful and unexpected for the viewer. His previous collaborations with Bardem (“Los lunes al sol” and “Loving Pablo”) were creative character studies that allowed actor and filmmaker interesting canvases on which to build their artistic relationship.
This is certainly a film of principles where the lead character is revealed to have none. De Aranoa lays the groundwork with his smart and inventive screenplay while Bardem inhabits Blanco fully and with a “method”-styled skill that is rare in the films of today.
With this piece, the two artists find their best collaboration yet. Bardem’s mesmerizing turn works in tandem with his director’s steady hand and unobtrusive filmmaking. The symbiotic flow of director and actor is nearly flawless.
The subtlety of the piece may be too often buried beneath obvious symbolism (the crooked scale statue at the entrance of the factory, a man with many layers named “Blanco”, etc.) and the opening scene leads to an incident that might not play as well as it should, but Bardem’s character is so well written and performed that the drama and comedically uncomfortable moments hit very well.
By the time we get to the film’s finale, Fernando León de Aranoa gives his audience a brilliantly skewed lesson in self-worth. The filmmaker lays waste to the adage, “Be careful of what you want, because you might get it.” in a glorious slow-motion montage of hard learned truths about one’s place in the scheme of things and a final moment so powerful that it may earn an agonizing sympathy.
“El buen patrón” is a much-needed tonic for a year lacking in adult-themed films about life lessons hard learned.
Nominated for 20 Goya awards and winner of six including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Score for Zeltia Montes’s playful work, Bardem and his director crafted a strong and intelligent film that walks a tightrope of morality in the most entertaining of ways.
“El buen patrón” (“The Good Boss”)
Written and directed by Fernando León de Aranoa
Starring Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almundena Amor, Óscar de la Fuente
NR, 116 Minutes, MK2 Films/BÁSCULAS BLANCO