The film revolves around two male coworkers, Chad (Eckhart), and Howard (Malloy), who, angry and frustrated with women in general, plot to toy maliciously with the emotions of a deaf female subordinate.
Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) are two middle management employees at a corporation, temporarily assigned to a branch office away from home for six weeks. Howard is assigned to head up the project. Embittered by bad experiences with women, they form a mean-spirited revenge scheme to find an insecure woman, romance her simultaneously, and then break up with her at the same time. Chad, who is cruel, manipulative, duplicitous, misanthropic, misogynist and abusive to his subordinates, is the originator and driving force behind the scheme, while Howard is the more passive of the two, which leads to a later conflict with the scheme.
Chad decides upon Christine (Stacy Edwards), a deaf coworker who is so self-conscious that she wears headphones so people, thinking that she is listening to music, are compelled to get her attention visually or tactilely without immediately learning that she is deaf. Chad and Howard decide to each ask her out, and over the course of several weeks, date her simultaneously.
In the meantime, things with the project go wrong; a fax Chad is supposed to have made to the home office is "lost" and a presentation Chad is supposed to deliver to the home office is unable to be carried out successfully after some documents are allegedly printed so lightly that they are illegible. These mishaps culminate in Howard being demoted and Chad taking his place as the head of the project after Chad places the blame for the mishaps unfairly on Howard. Chad eventually sleeps with Christine, and she falls in love with him. When Christine eventually breaks this news to Howard, Howard tells Christine the truth about their scheme, and tells her that he loves her. Christine is shocked by the revelation, and refuses to believe that Chad would do this. When she confronts Chad, he admits the truth. Christine angrily slaps Chad, but Chad is unashamed of his behavior, and cruelly taunts Christine, who collapses into tears after he leaves her.
Weeks later, Howard confronts Chad back home at his apartment. Howard is now apparently in the bad graces of the company, having been moved to a lower floor, while Chad is doing well, and thus offering to say something on Howard's behalf. Nevertheless, Howard is not worried about work; he confesses to Chad that he really loved Christine. At this point Chad, despite having previously told Howard that his girlfriend, Suzanne, had left him, shows Howard that she is still there, asleep in his bed. Chad says that he carried out the plan "because I could," and cruelly asks Howard how it feels to have truly hurt someone. Howard, who had never done anything like that before, leaves, horrified.
Howard later travels back to the city and to a bank where he sees Christine working there, and tries to speak to her, but she looks away in anger. He loudly pleads with her to "listen" to him, but his pleas literally fall on deaf ears.
In the Company of Men features several themes such as retro-sexism and role reversals. An example of role reversal is that in the beginning Howard plans with Chad to destroy an innocent girl, yet by the end of the film Chad has "destroyed" Howard.
In the Company of Men opened in a Limited release in 8 theaters on August 1, 1997 and grossed $100,006, with an average of $12,500 per theater. The films widest release was 108 theaters and it ended up earning $2,804,473.
In the Company of Men was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. The film received very positive reviews from critics and has a "certified fresh" score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 54 reviews with an average rating of 7.9 out of 10. The critical consensus states "Neil LaBute's pitch-black comedy is a masterful exploration of male insecurity, and it's elevated by a breakout performance by Aaron Eckhart as a businessman who likes to play psychological games." The film also has a score of 81 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 25 critics indicating "universal acclaim". The character of Chad was also nominated by the American Film Institute for their list of AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains, but did not make it into the top 100. It was listed on Empire's 500 Greatest films of all time at number 493.
2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains:
Chad – Nominated Villain
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
The DVD of the film contains two commentary tracks, one with director Neil LaBute, and the other with stars Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, and Stacy Edwards.