Kevin Costner and Ben Affleck in The Company Men.
The Company Men is a tepid, sloppy melodrama about the effects the recent recession has on a group of men, all of whom get laid off from cushy long held office jobs when the company they work for downsizes. It is standard movie of the week quality with a rather dull script by writer/director John Wells. This is his first feature film having made a name for himself on television with ER and The West Wing. No offense but if this movie is any indication of his talent level then perhaps he should stick to the small screen.
Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper play three men, at different stages in their lives, all of whom are laid off from high paying jobs at the GTX Corporation in Boston. Affleck is a sales executive bringing down 120 grand plus bonuses per year. Jones started the company with owner Craig T. Nelson and acts as the conscience of the company as Nelson orders thousands of jobs cut to appease share holders. Cooper is an executive somewhere between the other two men.
We see how being fired affects each of these men’s lives over the course of one year.
The story focuses mainly on Affleck’s Bobby Walker. He reacts with anger followed by denial and continues to drive his Porsche and spend his afternoons playing golf in a misguided attempt to appear successful. His wife has a better grip on the situation. She eventually persuades him to sell the car and their house and they move in with his father. He gets a blue collar job doing carpentry work with his brother-in-law (an underused Kevin Costner representing the voice of the working class) while continuing to search for another sales position.
What’s interesting about this movie is that it focuses on the effects downsizing has on wealthy office workers and not on the thousands of laborers that were also thrown out of work. Sure what Affleck and his family go through is disruptive but I never had much sympathy for him. At no point does his lifestyle fall to the level of being actually poor.
All of these old pros handle the acting chores well with Tommy Lee Jones giving the best performance as the movie’s conscience. He represents the sympathetic rich guy to balance Nelson’s greedy corporate stereotype. The one thing the movie does well is point out the growing disparity between the classes. Even as the country struggles through a recession the wealthiest percentage of society still manages to get richer while eliminating costs at the expense of working class jobs.
The Company Men’s heart is in the right place and it features a stellar cast of actors, but its story isn’t nearly compelling enough.
Ben Affleck and Rosemarie DeWitt lose sleep in The Company Men
As Patrick wrote, this movie focuses on the effects downsizing has on white collar workers and not blue collar workers, but Patrick's lack of sympathy for Bobby Walker is cold. Bobby and his family never become "poor" by some standards but they still go through hardships. Bobby went to college and worked his way up the ladder, building a life for himself and his family, only to have it ripped away. What part of your heart has to be missing to not sympathize with Bobby when he finally admits to himself that he is in financial trouble and cries to his wife, "I am a 37 year old unemployed loser who can't support his family."
Patrick argues that at no point does Bobby's lifestyle fall to the level of being actually poor. Poor is relative to one's situation. The poor in the United States live very comfortable compared to the poor of Rwanda and many other places around the world. So I guess Patrick should not feel sorry for American laborers losing their job either because they will get tax funded food stamps and welfare and still live better than most poor around the world.
If you cannot guess by now, I felt very much for Bobby and his situation. As a married father of two, few things scare me like the thought of losing my job. I would feel as much of a loser as Bobby. The thought of failing my wife and kids by not being able to provide for them is a nightmare I hope to never experience. I was not so caught up in the drama of Gene, who is clearly very wealthy and able to retire with minimal, if any discomfort. Phil has a sad story line but is not given enough screen time for me to emotionally invest in.
I also disagree with Patrick when he wrote that this movie points out the growing disparity between the classes. That is not at all the case here. At no point is this film about class war fare. If anything, this film is about how the manufacturing business in the United States used to be about actually making something, but has now become about numbers and making stock holders happy. The Company Men is about surviving those nasty curve balls life throws at us. As Kevin Costner says to Ben Affleck, "Sometimes I'm up. Sometimes I'm down. It all comes out in the end." Speaking of he ending, it is far too simple even if it is intended to inspire.
Photos © Copyright The Weinstein Company (2011)