Directed by Robert Altman, starring Neve Campbell, James Franco, Malcolm McDowell, Barbara Robertson, William Dick and Susie Cusack.

After the success of 2001's 'Gosford Park', veteran director Robert Altman returns with 'The Company', a typically fly-on-the-wall look at a year in the life of the Joffrey Ballet Company of Chicago. Convinced to move into the world of dance by star and co-producer Neve Campbell, Altman accurately captures the blood, sweat and tears that lie behind the beauty of performance. Spectacle aside, the lack of plot, however, means that 'The Company' meanders and wanders too much to fully retain the attention of a non-balletomane audience.

One-time dancer Campbell came up with and pursued the idea of a film based around a ballet company, spending two years in training for her role as the central character Loretta 'Ry' Ryan. And it shows. She's step perfect as the dedicated dancer at a crossroads in her professional life, giving a particularly affecting performance of choreographer Lar Lubovitch's 'My Funny Valentine' during a storm at an outdoor show. But, despite the fact that her personal relationships are also touched on - two sets of parents hovering during shows, a break-up and a developing relationship - it's never at enough depth to give much sense of Ry's life beyond ballet.

The ensemble cast is mainly comprised of professional dancers from the Joffrey Ballet Company who, although showing some self-consciousness in early scenes, acquit themselves well. Malcolm McDowell spends most of the film chewing entertainingly on the scenery while playing the capricious and egotistical director of the company, goading his dancers or "babies" with phrases like "You're all so pretty! You know how I hate pretty." He's a ball of energy amidst all the languid poise.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunne, who previously collaborated with Altman on 'Gosford Park' captures both the on-stage beauty and the intense - and often painful - work that goes on behind the scenes. The everyday work and details of the process give way to glamorous performances and the many dance sequences are striking - but this does not an engrossing film make. 

There's plenty to delight the eye but 'The Company' is closer to Altman's 'Prêt-à-Porter' than his 'Short Cuts'. Too much dance and not enough drama.

Caroline Hennessy