Sunday, May 31, 2020

Invisible Man: THE ASSISTANT

Kitty Green’s The Assistant is an invisible man movie—a slow boiling subterranean sense that something’s not quite right even as the main cause is just out of frame, unseen, unheard, but looming all the same. It’s a story about how so many companies are built with a bureaucratic structure that absorbs internal criticism and protects their powerful members from having to care about their underlings. It stars Julia Garner, whose curly blonde locks and latent America’s-sweetheart energy (twenty years ago, she’d be a Meg Ryan type) deceptively does stoic stress or patient unresolved suspicion better than just about any young actress, who here plays an assistant to a high-powered movie producer. Over the course of a quotidian day at the office, her suspicions are confirmed: the boss is one of those moral monsters we’ve read about, that class of powerful man so familiar from business and politics who are exposed as abusers. We observe as her convictions grow that a change must be made. She wants to warn someone, alert the mechanisms of justice, find a way to protect herself and others.

What Green, a documentarian making her first fiction effort, does so well is observing the ways in which this young woman’s options are quickly closed off. There’s the casual routine through which the others in her place of employment minimize her, shuffle off her complaints, and redirect her outrage — the better to out-wait her desire to speak up. When the human resources department circles the wagons, it’s not to protect the people inside the circle; it’s to keep the news from getting out. Key to this is a standout supporting turn by Matthew Macfayden as a chillingly dispassionate suit who all-too-easily pushes and prods at the problem—which is quickly clear he sees as Garner, not the boss, who remains off-screen throughout.

The movie captures the drab grey office life that hides this strategy of jargon-infused obfuscation and minimizing under bland corporate speak and deceptively calm orderly cubicles. For running less than 90 minutes, it’s full of dead air and routine tasks that slow the pace and the pulse. There’s a patience and a slowness that reflects the lack of urgency all but our lead feel about getting to the bottom of this rot at the core of their company. After all, jobs depend on this powerful man, or so they all think. The movie’s stillness and simplicity, its allusion and implication, are key to its effect. Here’s a picture that’s less a narrative, and not much a character study, but is, at best, a cold, clinical biopsy into the heart of corruption that runs all the way to the top.

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