Neve Campbell may never be a great actress, but she at least has great taste. She must also be one hell of a producer, since she somehow, despite not appearing in a theatrical release since the last Scream movie, enlisted the considerable talents of director Robert Altman to film The Company (2003), a season-in-the-life of Chicago's highly respected Joffrey Ballet. Even more remarkable, Campbell a trained ballerina herself managed to insert herself into the selective and cloistered company, learning several pieces over several months, and emerging as a credible addition among her boundlessly talented, full-time co-performers. It's a triumph for the actress, but, as is often the case in an Altman film, her considerable achievement is never thrust upon the audience in an Oscar-grubbing fashion. The best that can be said is that one is often surprised to be watching a masterfully choreographed number and find that it's actually Neve Campbell moving believably amidst these peerless dancers. The entire film is similarly unassuming, employing the slenderest of narrative threads to depict with impressive verisimilitude the demanding and often thankless existence of a ballet company member. Campbell plays Ry, a hard-working dancer who comes into her own after subbing brilliantly for an injured colleague in a literally stormy outdoor performance. Her success attracts the attention of the company's director Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell), a likable eccentric fond of affectionately addressing his charges as "babies" while commissioning strange, budget-challenging pieces with famed choreographers like Lar Lubovitch and Robert Desrosiers (both of whom appear as themselves in the film). Ry's ascendance within the company is complemented by a slow developing romance with Josh (James Franco), a gifted cook at a trendy eatery. Despite this streak of good fortune, Ry is still forced to keep an unglamorous second job as a barmaid, while contending with her overbearing mother, who can't quite accept her growing irrelevance after a lifetime of tireless (and probably selfish, to a degree) coaching. What tension there is derives from Ry and Josh's faltering relationship, hampered by her all-consuming dedication to her craft, and the ever-present threat of a career-snuffing injury, which is horrifically glimpsed midway through the picture. The script, co-written with Campbell by the celebrated Barbara Turner, is laced with conventions from countless performing arts pictures, recalling such unexceptional works as The Turning Point, Fame, and Center Stage. While The Company is no The Red Shoes, it's a graceful step removed from those other films, distinguished by Altman's unobtrusively perceptive direction, and the thrill of watching the Joffrey Ballet strut their stuff. The numbers presented here are uniformly excellent, with Desrosiers' wildly fanciful "Blue Snake" concluding the film on a colorful and flamboyant note. Shooting in high definition for the first time in his historic career, Altman, working with cinematographer Andrew Dunn, seems a perfect fit to the format. Freed from the more rigorous constraints of film, Altman responds with his most playfully limber work in years. Though it lacks any real substance, the film frequently transcends its clichéd trappings to offer a uniquely dreamy exploration of the dancing life. It's an eminently accomplished trifle made possible by an artist of relatively modest talents. Columbia TriStar presents The Company in a spotless anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a feature-length commentary from Altman and Campbell that is hardly essential, but worthwhile for ballet fans who'd like to hear how this all came together. It's far more enlightening than the two brief "making-of" featurettes, which are little more than studio-produced promotional tools. The disc's most welcome feature is an isolated collection of the film's many dance sequences, sparing the most discerning viewer the business of enduring the standard-issue drama. Keep-case.
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