Javier Bardem is one of my favorite actors. I would pay to watch him read a phone book. (Do they still make those?) He is definitely one of the most versatile actors around. From his complex villains in No Country for Old Men and Skyfall to his achingly sensitive performances in Biutiful and Before Night Falls, he’s always a joy to watch. In his latest, The Good Boss, a Spanish workplace satire, he plays the seemingly benevolent boss Julio Blanco, owner of an industrial scale factory who is trying to make everything look perfect in order to win a prestigious prize that could help his business. But a series of misfortunes befall him, and he scrambles to get everything back into balance before the committee makes their visit to decide his fate, revealing his true nature along the way.

When we first see Julio, he’s giving his workers a pep talk, thanking them for being so great and telling them how he thinks of them all as family. But his “Daddy loves you speech” is cut short when recently fired employee Jose comes into the room shouting about his unfair firing, questioning Julio’s true feelings about his workers. Getting no satisfaction from Julio, Jose sets up camp across the street from the factory entrance and grows more and more annoying, threatening the image of Basculas Blanco much to Julio’s consternation.

And then there are the interns. As Julio made his big speech, he thanked the interns who were moving on, and one of the young women mouthed, “Te amo,” and burst into tears before running out. The new crop includes another beauty who takes an instant fancy to her boss, and the feeling is mutual. But their liaison becomes another problem for Julio, once he discovers who she is.

And while he’s playing that benevolent boss role, he tries his best to help Miralles, his floor manager who he’s known since childhood, whose home life is affecting his work. But of course that doesn’t go as planned either.

It turns out though that Julio, for all his outward appearances as the nice guy, is a villain at heart, and Bardem’s charisma is key to this character working. By the end, he’s taken care of his problems and everything is back in balance and he has that new trophy to show for it, no matter how he won. In the hands of another actor, I can’t say this film would have worked. But Bardem plays Julio with subtlety and restraint allowing the audience to get to know him in such tiny increments, that the final revelation of his true self comes almost as a surprise.

The film is in theaters now. 


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