Tuesday, October 16, 2018
The Best Movie Bad Guy This Year
The last couple of days, with different friends, I have found myself discussing the movie Sorry to Bother You. Now, number one, if you haven't seen this yet, you should, because Boots Riley's film is a rare thing - a satire that works. It's biting, surreal, and funny as hell. It's totally up to date in its concerns. It is also true that the less you know about its story going in, the better, so I'll say nothing about its plot.
What I want to bring up, as I did when chatting about it with friends, is that aside from all its other good qualities, it has the best bad guy performance I've seen this year. I'm talking about Armie Hammer's performance as a very rich, drug-snorting CEO of a company called WorryFree.
As Steve Lift, Hammer plays a privileged and jaded tech bro essentially, but he doesn't play him as an obvious jerk. Despite the extremity of what his character winds up proposing in the movie, he doesn't lay on an evil veneer.
I mean, what Steve Lift tries to do in the movie is insidious - though not all that more insidious than what actual CEOs try to do in their quests for wealth and economic dominance - but he doesn't think what he's doing is bad and he actually has a cracked kind of visionary streak to him. He's megalomaniacal but he's not formal or stuffy or repressed. He'll party with you and share his intoxicating goodies. He knows his business well, takes his work seriously, and he's intelligent. He's personable and doesn't lack a sense of humor. As you watch, at brief moments, you could almost like him, and there's something especially chilling about seeing a "villain" played, even in an outrageous satire, as someone not cartoony. You sit there thinking, "This is precisely the kind of person we'll most need to watch out for in the future". As writer and director Riley himself said, he cast Armie Hammer in the role because Hammer is a "lovable dude". He represents what Riley calls "the new capitalism" where the realities of people's working conditions are disguised or hidden. In the words of Hammer's character, "I'm not your boss, I'm your friend."
Friend indeed. Underneath his smiles and promises of wealth, underneath his tech boy quirkiness that talks of making the world better, lay his plans for exploitation. And the thing is, these plans, the way things are going in the flesh and blood world, may not be that farfetched after all.
More than any nasty character in a film I've seen this year, including crime and horror films, Hammer's Steve Lift is the "villain" I've remembered. He's an exaggeration of a type yet real.
By the way, if you didn't catch the movie when it was in theaters, it's now available for streaming at home.