The Good Boss (El Buen Patrón) - Spoiler Free Movie Review
Javier Bardem is entrancing as a well-meaning, charismatic owner of a factory, who will need to endure the most difficult working week of his life!
Original Title: El Buen Patrón
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Director: Fernando León de Aranoa
Cast: Javier Bardem, Manolo Solo, Almudena Amor, Óscar de la Fuente, Sonia Almarcha, Rafa Castejón, Fernando Albizu, Tarik Rmili & Mara Guil.
Run Time: 120 min.
Spanish Release: 15 October 2021
US Release: 24 August 2022
German Release: 28 July 2022
In reality, I wanted to finally see Nope but missed the screening, thus ending up catching a screening of The Good Boss, or as titled in Spain: El Buen Patrón. A streak of luck, because I am a huge fan of Spanish cinema, as I am half Spanish myself, plus this movie was on my radar ever since I read about the glorious reviews it received. Fernando León de Aranoa’s black workplace satire has been nominated for 17 Goya awards and won six of the nominations, rightly so in my opinion, as this is a marvellous assembled film. So let’s talk about The Good Boss!
Awaiting a visit by a committee that could give his company an important award, the owner of an industrial scales manufacturing business tries to resolve any problems from his workers in enough time.
The screenplay written by Fernando León de Aranoa centres around a week in the life of Julio Blanco, owner of an industrial scales factory. The week is of great importance for Blanco, as his company has been nominated for an award for business excellence, so everything needs to be in perfect balance. Balance is the keyword in León de Aranoa’s script, it is all time present; either used metaphorically for balance in life, justice and society or quite literally, as it is the livelihood of the factory. Yet, as quoted by the lead character himself, sometimes you need to tip the scales in your favour. What makes the plot so great is that it's relatable! We all have witnessed double morals and standards at the workplace: A CEO congratulating his workers for the sacrifices made, exclaiming they are one big happy family when in truth it is all about profit and the superiors couldn't care less about their employees well being. This is a deliciously dark, corporate tragedy, centred around the egocentricity and greed of the charismatic businessman.
I did find a few weaknesses concerning the narrative, however. The story has pacing issues, specifically at the beginning, dragging a little the first forty minutes before starting to gain momentum. It also doesn't make full use of its potential, meaning it could have been a tad nastier than it was at the end.
The dialogue was meticulously planned and crafted. Every word out of Blanco’s mouth comes with a slight wave of sarcasm, stinging even more once his double standards are exposed. The pain and desperation as the voices of the employees are grounded, feeling real.
Javier Bardem is magnificent as Julio Blanco, the main character plus owner of the business that produces industrial scales. This marks the third cooperation between the director and Bardem, who practically carries the movie as it focuses on his role. The actor’s natural charm, in combination with the sinister atmosphere he creates, elevates the persona of Julio Blanco, from a standard parodical take of a superior to a multi-faceted industrial shark. The character himself is a greedy, narrow-minded businessman, who masks himself as a paternal figure for his employees, meddling in their private affairs, all for the good of his company.
Almudena Amor gave a grand performance as Liliana, the new marketing trainee. Amor has crackling chemistry with Bardem, selling their mutual attraction, as well as making her a possible femme fatale for Blanco. While the persona seems to be pushed into a typical trope of a female role, it takes a surprising turn breaking with character cliché. That is all I will say because Liliana holds quite a few surprises of her own.
Manolo Solo and Óscar de la Fuente round off the cast as two employees that play a major role in Blanco's life, during that specific week. Solo’s Miralles is a childhood friend of Julios, who is going through a rough patch in his private life and bringing those problems to work. De la Fuente, on the other hand, plays a disgruntled former employee, who is camping outside the factory to demonstrate, much to Blanco’s dismay. Both gave brilliant performances and sold their despair.
The visual component complements the script, as it is through the formidable cinematography that metaphors and cynicism are conceptualised on screen, often as little easter eggs in the fore- or background. The camera quite often uses documentary-esque tropes, when following the character of Bardem. Director of photography Pau Esteve Birba managed to turn Madrid into a small-looking province of Spain, the setting in which the plot takes place. The visual narrative is broken up into seven chapters, one for each day of the week, giving it an impression of a video diary. The picture is sharp, while the colours look natural.
Makeup and wardrobe are well designed, capturing the essence of each character while suiting the scenery.
The music surrenders itself to the happening on screen. It can become quite energetic during dramatic moments, though also sombre during quieter segments.
Verdict: El Buen Patrón starts off on stumbling feet as if a little unsure what it is heading towards. Yet, once the ball starts rolling, it turns into an exquisite satirical tragedy that ends on an unexpected, beautiful cynical note. The screenplay contains a lot of figurative, as well as, literal themes about the balance of life, while the dialogues are methodically crafted, to set the tone of sinister sarcasm and pain. Javier Bardem is phenomenal as the lead Julio Blanco, having impeccable chemistry with Almudena Amor, who also gives an exhilarating performance. The camera work, while simple, is fantastic! Visualising a lot of the metaphors onto the screen. Costumes and make-up are good and suit the surrounding world, while the music compliments the storytelling. All in all, this is a solid Spanish comedic drama with a great cast and minor hiccups. A well-deserved 7.5 out of 10.