Savage instinct to survive has not been conquered by modern man, it just takes a new guise as we accelerate into the 21st century. The Spanish film The Method introduces several contenders vying for a position in a top ranked corporation, locks the doors, and observes how deeply people will plunge the depths of self-interest in order to best their competition. Perils of the veldt have been replaced by the sterile confines of the office but the kill or be killed mentality thrives in business as much as it has over centuries of humanity.
The applicants come from different walks of life: there’s a couple women, there’s younger idealists and embittered cynics, higher ranking professionals and hot talent hoping for a big break. Broken down to equals by having to repeat the paperwork and seated around a table amongst one another, they make light of the situation and joke amongst themselves. Two happen to know one another. Then the process begins, conducted by computer with no management or HR representatives in the room. Instruction one is to unanimously select a team-leader. After some acrimonious grandstanding the votes are tallied and instruction two is revealed. A newspaper clipping appears, the story of a whistle-blower who turned his executives in to prevent a dangerous environmental catastrophe. If you were conducting the interview would you hire this person?
Let the games begin. Suspicions that one of the applicants is a mole, and the certainty that they are all being observed pit everyone against their counterparts. A pack of desperate scavengers, they quickly ascertain the weakest of the pack and fragile, unspoken alliances are built round by round. Self-preservation brings out bared teeth, quick thinking and rationalizations. At the same time resentment over being treated like a social experiment begins to percolate, with each applicant attempting to suppress their indignation along with their empathy.
An obvious comparison would be Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men. The close quarters, the passions boiling over to the threat of violence, the clear objective of people in the room. However in the courtroom drama people are motivated more by prejudice and apathy, and in the boardroom people are motivated by their darkest inclinations. There’s no hero taking a stand for truth and justice, simply people championing themselves. Amidst the jokes and absurd little situations thrown in for good measure cynicism reins supreme leaving no room for speeches about right or wrong.
The filming style is strong. The cameras tend to bob and weave a little more than necessary which adds some pretense of drama which would best be left in the actors and actresses hands. There are shots which alienate the characters, separating them from one another to undercut the notion of having to stand alone, but as the cerebral gymnastics are performed the framing cuts in tight, making everyone seemed cagey with their backs against the wall.
For such a large ensemble cast there’s no obvious poor choices. I’m unfortunately ignorant of the Spanish movie scene but each role was distinct and quite believably portrayed. Each member of the cast is capable of conveying both inner turmoil and eventual bloodlust when narrowing in for the kill against another applicant showing great dynamism. My favorite was Natalia Verbeke who had the peculiar role of the receptionist cum major character who whirled like a harlequin in the beginning and slowly descended into ghoulishness. And she’s fucking cute.
While the heart of the plot is solid there are several coats of paint I take severe umbrage with and would love to see stricken from the cut. The beginning of the, in addition to committing the stylistic flaw of constant split-screen action, incorporates massive protests against multi-national corporations. Why? Besides making it difficult for the applicants to get to the interview and creating some contrivance for lunch being delayed there’s really no point. The last shot of the movie almost ruins it with its apocalyptic brimstone. If the director is attempting to insinuate that the soulless corporate culture is destroying the good in people they could have relied on the entire competition without hitting us over the head with a sledgehammer. Finally, and most bizarrely, there’s the world’s most unfortunate sex-scene. It comes for no reason, distracts us for five minutes, reveals nothing about anyone, and departs without impact. There’s no even any nudity so the possibility of exploitation doesn’t even factor into the decision.
Despite these rather obvious flaws the movie is good, if not exactly groundbreaking. The novelty of the interviewing process combined with the performances from everyone in the film make for an entertaining and even a thought-provoking viewing experience. Hopefully they’ll re-edit the movie one day, cutting out the garbage and leaving a solid ninety minutes intact. Not likely, of course, so don’t bother waiting for that to happen.
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The Method (El Metodo) was released on DVD by Palm Pictures. It’s got a clean widescreen transfer, offers Dolby 5.1 surround and seems widely available.