The Boss of It All isn’t alone among satires in being more interesting to think about than to watch. In Lars von Trier’s so-called comedy, an earnest actor is hired to play chief executive at a small firm by the actual boss, who has been pretending to be just one of the gang. Misunderstandings, turmoil, and hard truths ensue as the ringer, Kristoffer (Jens Albinus), bluffs and fabricates his way along, confabbing periodically with his bearish puppetmaster Ravn (Peter Gantzler).
Less contemptuous than the director’s past work, Boss is a conceptually satisfying exploration of the responsibility displacements that undergird modern society, and of the interplay between performance and persuasion. But it also features lame comic types, flaccid timing and corporate dings (blame The Office for spoiling us), and, somewhat more purposefully, a wastefully opportunistic sense of motivation. Like an off-the-cuff sketch, a dense tangle of provocative ideas is there, but the execution is wanting.
In what sounds like a lost chapter from his superior Five Obstructions, von Trier uses a semi-randomized system of shooting and framing. The technique extends the idea of displaced responsibility to the director’s own prerogative (which the self-conscious narration also toys with). Most noticeable in jump cuts and off-center shots, it’s fascinating almost as a simulation of the micro-serendipities of handheld work, though it’s both more intense and more diffuse.
The Boss of It All builds to a not ineffective enforced epiphany, like most von Trier films. Fans at least can take the film’s ungainliness as another Brechtian gesture in the arsenal, and accept the moody Dane in all his paradoxes.