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The Good Boss review – scales factory satire maintains a fine balance

Javier Bardem makes for a powerful anchor in this cutting Spanish dramedy about a boss's entitlement and overreach

On more than a few occasions across The Good Boss director Fernando Leon de Aranoa cribs from classic gangster movies, framing his protagonist, as played by Javier Bardem, in his plush home, orchestrating schemes to hurt and manipulate the people around him. Yet Mr. Blanco (Bardem) is hardly a Don Corleone – instead of wielding the power of the mob in ‘50s America he’s simply trying to win an award for “Business Excellence” for his scale-making company. It’s an amusingly petty goal for a ruthless character, one that makes for a fun and clever examination of the inescapable power disparities in every aspect of day to day life.

The Good Boss follows a week or so in the life of Blanco, a man who tries to present himself as a “good boss,” always encouraging his employees to come to him with their problems. Naturally, he’s only good when it suits him, though, and whilst he’s happy to bail an employee’s son out of jail, de Aranoa shows us Blanco’s true colours early and often – a casual racist with a disdain for those he deems truly beneath him and a habit of lecherously pursuing his young female interns.

Of course, Blanco’s pursuit of his award comes at the worst possible time. A fired ex-employee has started a grimly pathetic protest camp outside his factory’s front gates, the moronic head of production is going off the rails, and a fling with the newest intern Liliana (Almudena Amor) holds a destructive power over him. It’s an energetic, if rather soapy, story, one that maybe loses its way towards the end with a far-fetched climactic set piece but is consistently engaging along the way.

Blanco’s chummy façade barely hides his true callousness, and it gives Bardem a lot to play with, waves of disgust and exhaustion washing over his face whenever Blanco isn’t being watched. An early speech he gives to the factory floor makes for a strong introduction, his faux-familial smarm immediately setting you on edge, de Aranoa’s dialogue and Bardem’s performance melding well to let you know just how little Blanco can be trusted.

It’s a dynamic that many will be familiar with, a manager or boss inserting themselves into the parts of their employees’ lives that they really should have no say over under the guise of being a “work family.” Though there is an often lighthearted tone here – Manolo Solo is very funny as Blanco’s floundering right-hand man Miralles – the class war bubbles up below the surface, de Aranoa bristling at the sheer entitlement of the managerial class.

Silly ending aside, The Good Boss is an eminently watchable slice of satire, combining its comedy of manners with a real anger to entertaining effect, all anchored by Bardem’s powerful presence and the ultimate message that you shouldn’t give your boss an inch, or they’ll take a mile. It’s a mantra that will hit home very hard right now, in our Summer of Discontent, yet also feels timelessly relevant. The Good Boss frequently proves skilful at this exact sort of tightrope walk; as you’d want from a film about a weighing scales factory, it maintains a fine balance.

The Good Boss is released in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 July.

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