What constitutes a good boss? A knowledgeable professional, a solid performer, and someone who can recognize and harness talent are key qualities that come to mind. The ability to excel in difficult situations, however, is just as important. A supervisor who is generous with vacation time may be well-liked, but that person must also be capable of letting someone go or reprimanding them if they aren’t adequately executing their job responsibilities. Most crucially, personal behavior and public persona should be relatively aligned, otherwise a smiling face for the cameras can mask abusive and destructive tendencies. It’s not initially clear what to make of the protagonist in The Good Boss, but as his world unravels, his true nature comes into focus.
Blanco (Javier Bardem) is the owner of a successful company that manufactures industrial scales, and he prides himself on his attachment to his business. When he learns that he is up for an award, he wants to ensure that the company is as presentable as possible. That’s precisely when things start to go wrong, however, with one disgruntled ex-employee, Jose (Óscar de la Fuente), camping out outside to protest his termination, a loyal worker, Miralles (Manolo Solo) becoming much less dependable, and a new intern, Liliana (Almudena Amor), catching Blanco’s eye at a time he can’t afford to be distracted.
The tone of The Good Boss is defined by schadenfreude. Blanco projects this image of excellence and champions himself as a man of the people, but seeing how he responds in a crisis to each of the situations that arise reveals a different sort of man. Initially, he is patient and tries to fix things in a reasonable, respectful manner, but as time goes on and things haven’t gotten better, he becomes less concerned with feelings and friendliness. A good boss knows how to steer the ship when the waters are calm, but Blanco is all too comfortable taking shortcuts and cutting others out when they threaten to get in the way of what he has worked hard to build.
It is possible to have sympathy for Blanco, but he makes the wrong choices over and over, initially offering support but then putting himself first. When the security guard Román (Fernando Albizu) complains about how Jose’s use of a megaphone is hurting his ears, Blanco makes a sarcastic comment that shows that he is only projecting the illusion of a communal workplace where everyone deserves to be treated with respect and given equal attention. The convergence of several simultaneous derailments sends him off the edge, and he would have an easier time hanging on if he was as concerned with anyone else’s survival and prosperity as he is with his own.
Bardem has become an international superstar, winning an Oscar for his terrifying turn in No Country for Old Men and acclaim for another villainous role in Skyfall, among many other English-language productions. Reteaming with director Fernando León de Aranoa proves to be much stronger than their last collaboration, Loving Pablo, which looked at the story of Pablo Escobar with a Spanish cast speaking English. Bardem is natural and comfortable in his native language, and that allows him to dig into additional nuances of his character that might otherwise be more difficult to showcase.
The Good Boss was Spain’s official submission to the Oscars last year, where it made the fifteen-wide finalist list for the Best International Feature category. While its selection over Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers as the country’s representative film puzzled some, there is merit to be found in this film, which takes a simple concept of hard work and resulting success and compounds it with ego and interpersonal dynamics. It’s an entertaining ride that at the same time has plenty to say about what it means to fulfill the complicated job description its title invokes.
The Good Boss opens Friday, August 26th in select cities and nationwide on Friday, September 2nd.