Javier Bardem’s filmography is filled with memorable characters. Among them, are Bond villain Silva in “Skyfall,” quadriplegic Ramón Sampedro in “The Sea Inside,” Desi Arnaz in “Being the Ricardos,” and his Oscar-winning portrayal of Anton Chigurh, the psycho with a bad haircut, in “No Country for Old Men.” With “The Good Boss” the Spanish actor delivers yet another unforgettable performance this time as Blanco, the owner of a company that manufactures industrial scales. On the surface, he resembles the ideal boss, kind, caring, and fair. But as writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa’s story moves forward, our protagonist’s true nature is revealed, and it may explain why Lady Justice wears a blindfold. Her scales are far from balanced in the Goya-winning satire.
The film opens with Blanco addressing his factory workers at Basculas Blanco, the business inherited from his father that makes scales of all sizes for the workplace. “We have a lot to celebrate,” he tells them before revealing that the company is nominated for the government’s business excellence award. The pep talk is quickly disrupted by Jose (Óscar de la Fuente), a disgruntled employee laid off due to downsizing. He’s about to make his former boss’s life a living hell.
Blanco is the kind of CEO who likes to consider his employees “family.” He and his wife Adela (Sonia Almarcha) never had children and so Blanco often encourages his workers to come to him with their problems as if they were his kids. Several times we see him lend a helping hand. For example, when 70-year-old Fortuna (Celso Bugallo), a faithful laborer who’s worked at the factory all his life, needs help when his son gets in legal trouble, Blanco makes a phone call and gets the young man released from jail. He goes even further by asking Adela to give the boy a delivery job at her dress shop. However, like The Godfather, Blanco calls upon Fortuna for a favor in return, and like a good soldier, he obliges resulting in deadly consequences.
Sadly, Blanco doesn’t know the difference between helping people and meddling in their lives. He crosses the line continuously. When his Head of Production (and right-hand man) Miralles begins making serious and costly mistakes, Blanco pries and discovers that his friend’s marriage is falling apart. Miralles’ wife is cheating with the company’s Logistics director, the much younger and buff Khaled (Tarik Rmili). Making matters worse, Blanco confronts both of them and then takes Miralles out to a club for drinks and strippers.
Like so many men before him, Blanco is a sexual predator who preys upon the endless group of young interns that walk through Basculas Blanco’s doors. His system involves setting them up in private apartments (to which he has access) and then, charming his way into their beds. To avoid an awkward situation, interns are only allowed to work at the company for a few months and HR Department Head Rubio (Rafa Castejón), another Blanco crony, is ready to step in should any problems arise. When a new batch of bevies arrives, Blanco sets his sights on Liliana (Almudena Amor) but gets more than he bargains for as she proves to be a formidable adversary.
The supporting cast also features Fernando Albizu who transitioned from the stage to the screen, first appearing in short films and then moving to features, including Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Here he plays a gentle security guard named Roman who wants to see the good in everyone, especially his boss Blanco.
Bardem is terrific as the wolf in sheep’s clothing. He elevates Fernando León de Aranoa’s dramedy by creating another memorable character. In Spanish, “Blanco” means white which describes the actor’s hair color. It gives his character a distinguished look, a natural disguise that gives off trustworthy vibes. Now in the context of an empty white room, “Blanco” could also stand for cold, bleak, and desolate, a description more fitting of the unscrupulous boss.
“The Good Boss” features subtle humor, a solid cast, and Javier Bardem at his best. I would have enjoyed a few cringeworthy moments at Blanco’s expense, but as long accountability works its way into the story, I’m good.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing at America Cinemas Fort Worth, Angelika Film Center (Dallas), Angelika Film Center (Plano)