Julio Blanco (Javier Bardem), the boss of “The Good Boss,” is introduced giving a pep talk to his factory employees, with his words underlined by a jaunty, clarinet-infused score.
The company is up for an award in business excellence, he says, so they should be on their best behavior when the judges stroll through. Did he mention they’re like family to him — the children he never had? As if an illustration were necessary, a layoff victim, Jose (Óscar de la Fuente), turns up with his two kids and starts making a ruckus. He demands that someone explain to his son and daughter that he no longer has his job.
Julio, in fact, is not the good boss his glad-handing manner might suggest. The movie, a dark comedy from Spain written and directed by Fernando León de Aranoa, follows him over roughly 10 days as he ensures that everything is set for the awards committee. That means interposing himself into the marital dramas of an ostensible friend (Manolo Solo) at the factory. It means using his influence to undermine the protest that Jose sets up across the street. The company makes scales, and sometimes, Julio says toward the end, you need to trick a scale into balancing.
“The Good Boss” provides prime material for Bardem, who has to maintain a polished veneer even as his character’s mendacity and troubles mount. As satire, though, the movie is facile: not quite mean, outlandish or energetic enough in the challenges it imagines for Julio, notwithstanding a bracingly cynical use of an unexpected death. Nor is it especially incisive, unless it comes as news that a magnate’s warm persona might be feigned.
The Good Boss
Not rated. In Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes. In theaters.