The DVD extras with some movies make the film seem better than it did just watching it. "The Company" is a good example.
I'd wondered, briefly, why star Neve Campbell also got producer credit. The DVD 'making of' documentary explains that the whole project was her idea; she'd been a dancer long before she took up acting, and wanted to combine the two. She chose Altman to direct, because of his skill at portraying relations and interactions among people in groups.
Altman did a fine job depicting dance, both rehearsals and performances. Campbell showed she can still dance. Malcolm McDowell gave a great performance as the acerbic company director. The Joffrey dancers were brilliant. Altman has created a dazzling cinematic album of what the world of dance is like at the beginning of the 21st century.
But the story arc was weak. This was no accident. In a recent (October 2004) interview, Altman said:
Question: "Why do you think you're drawn to stories about big groups of people sharing the same space? Did it have anything to do with growing up in such a large, close-knit family?"
Robert Altman: "Possibly. I don't know. That's a little too cerebral for me. I'm not much interested in stories anyway. I'm more interested in reactive behavior."
That sums up "The Company" very nicely. The movie is a montage of scenes of "reactive behavior" among realistic characters, and in this it is more like real life than a more structured story would have been.
Of course there is some story structure here, involving the creation of a new dance. This story is engaging, because the outside choreographer is a fey flake, and dance disaster seems foredoomed. But the dancers, being good soldiers, follow his orders diligently. And despite all expectations, at least all of my expectations, their climactic performance is superb.
But this story is not central to the movie. Again like life, it unfolds amidst all sorts of other organizational and interpersonal drama.
And for this reason the movie left me unsatisfied. Part of what I look for in movies, and in books, is a story arc: a beginning, a middle, and an end. I look for this precisely because life is rarely that neat. Many directors deliver this arc (and many more try to, and fail). Robert Altman chose not to try. He is free to do that, and I am free to rate this movie 7/10.