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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
In the Company of Aaron Eckhart
by Betty Jo Tucker

While enjoying Aaron Eckhart as one of the good guys in Suspect Zero, I couldn’t help thinking about his debut performance as the ultimate bad guy in In the Company of Men. I had the opportunity to interview Eckhart in connection with that film, and what follows is the 1997 article I wrote as reprinted in my movie memoir, Confessions of a Movie Addict.

                                      ***

Watching total wickedness on the big screen can be pretty scary, especially when the evil-doer looks like an average, ordinary person one might see every day at work.  In Neil LaBute’s controversial film, In the Company of Men, newcomer Aaron Eckhart plays this type of villain with chilling realism.

As Chad, an unscrupulous mid-level executive, Eckhart depicts one of the most deliberately malicious characters ever seen on film. Chad hates everyone, particularly women. In order to get even with the opposite sex, he manipulates a naïve colleague into joining his scheme to shower an innocent woman with attention, then dump her.

Waiting for my telephone interview with Eckhart, I can’t help wondering if he’s anything like the despicable Chad in real life. Eckhart’s polite, soft-spoken apology for his late call immediately puts me at ease. He laughs a little when asked how his work as Chad has influenced his personal life. “After seeing the film, my girlfriend’s mother complained to her that she shouldn’t trust me anymore,” he says. “That’s why I don’t want my own mother to see the movie. She still thinks I’m an angel.”

Eckhart claims he was able to nail Chad’s character so effectively because he reviewed case studies of sociopaths, studied their anti-social behavior and went to upscale Wall Street bars where he listened to men talk about their wives and girlfriends. With a hint of dismay in his voice, he says, “Chad is alive and well, I can tell you.”

Will Eckhart get stuck in bad guy roles because of his stunning success as the malevolent Chad? “I hope not,” he states. “In fact, if a remake of The Fabulous Baker Boys is ever in the works, I’d like to play the Jeff Bridges part.” Nevertheless, Eckhart has signed on for another unsympathetic role in Thursday, a dark comedy from Propaganda Films.

Eckhart was indeed fortunate to land the career-boosting role of Chad in his first feature film. His only prior film experience involved small parts in television movies and a few commercials. However, LaBute knew him from their time together at Brigham Young University, so he took a chance. Eckhart admits his friendship with writer-director LaBute gave him the casting edge for In the Company of Men. “After reading the script, I knew I just had to play Chad,” he recalls.

No doubt the film’s low budget of $23,000 also contributed to La Bute’s decision to hire the unknown Eckhart. “We ate bologna sandwiches, and Neil even mowed the neighbor’s lawn to help finish the film,” Eckhart proudly declares, then points out that shooting took only eleven days. In an age of movie budgets closer to $100 million and with shooting schedules running into months not days, that’s quite an accomplishment, especially considering the impressive results.

When asked to summarize the message of this disturbing movie, Eckhart replies emphatically, “Watch your back. Don’t trust anyone or anything!” Sounds like good advice to me. Still, moviegoers can trust at least one thing – Aaron Eckhart will shock them with his unforgettable performance as the contemptible Chad in In the Company of Men.

                                       ***  

(In the Company of Men, released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" for language and emotional abuse, is now available on DVD.)      


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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