Neil LaBute and Aaron Eckhart could again find themselves in the company of one another
Neil LaBute burst onto the film scene in 1997, when his provocative study in primal male behavior, "In the Company of Men," became a festival breakout and cultural talking point. Ditto for Aaron Eckhart, LaBute's Brigham Young University classmate who caught moviegoers' attention as a charismatic sharpie who toyed with a deaf female colleague while manipulating a male one.
LaBute's dark sensibility and Eckhart's charm proved an explosive combination, and the writer-director and actor would collaborate on three more films in the five years that followed.
It's been nearly a decade since they last worked together meaningfully on a film project (the 2002 A.S. Byatt adaptation "Possession"). But the two will reunite in an independent feature titled "The Geography of Hope," according to the film's producers, with Eckhart attached to play a lead role.
LaBute will direct the movie from his own script, and Eckhart will be joined in the cast by Ed Harris, who starred in LaBute's one-man stage drama "Wrecks" and is also attached.
"Hope" has some similar themes to "Company." In the 1970s-set story, two crooks (Eckhart and Harris) flee to Baja, Mexico, after a robbery in a San Diego convenience store goes bad. There they encounter several American women, and they find themselves torn between the impulse to grift the ladies and romance them.
The script was written years ago by LaBute, before his film and theater career jumped to the next level; it stayed on hold while he worked on projects in both mediums. (His most recent movie was the dysfunctional-family comedy "Death at a Funeral.")
Collaborating with LaBute on "Hope" are the principals at Sundial Pictures, the producers behind Sundance hit "Pariah," who confirmed news of the LaBute project, and the sales company Preferred Content. The idea, the Sundial producers said, is to shoot as soon as this year in Puerto Rico, where there's a hotel of faded charm that will stand in for 1970s Mexico. Representatives for the film personalities could not immediately be reached for comments.
LaBute has remained unapologetic and controversial with much of his work in the years since "Company" first prompted a debate over whether he was critiquing despicable male behavior or glorifying it.
In the meantime, screen representations of masculinity have changed. "Company" came well before the emo male of indies like "(500) Days of Summer." Eckhart, too, has made some switches, sanding the edges with parts in commercial romances such as "Love Happens" and playing a heroic military man in "Battle: Los Angeles" and the likable, grief-stricken father in "Rabbit Hole." If anyone could sharpen those edges again, though, it's LaBute.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Aaron Eckhart, right, and Matt Malloy in "In the Company of Men." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics