LaBute is first of all a writer: he absorbs talk (like someone released from deafness) and the helpless ways it betrays us. He also seems to see eye none as a helpless, unpaid actor. His pose as a director is what is special: the detachment; the unwillingness to scold malice, wickedness, or unkindness; and the subsequent, quite casual suggestion that we sort it out. There is also a steady development in his work—after all, who could have guessed that the “nasty" setup in In the Company of Men would lead to the good-natured panorama of Nurse Betty?
Your Friends and Neighbors rose to nearly intolerable heights (in the Jason Patric performance—which was bravura but actually rather blunter than LaBute usually permits). There is a big future here, and it is startling and exciting that he is now doing A. S. Byatt’s novel Possession.
The titles of Neil LaBute’s first two films were sometimes assaulted as cunning, or poker-faced, tricks to lure innocent viewers into his uniquely chilling way of observing a group. As if there were innocent viewers any longer! Some shrank from LaBute (it was pointed out with horror that he was a graduate of Brigham Young University). A few others observed that the misanthropy went with a very cool directorial hand, observant writing, and fine playing. It made one wonder what Fritz Lang might have done with Friends.