THE COMPANY MEN (2010)
Starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson and Patricia Kalember.
Screenplay by John Wells.
Directed by John Wells.
Distributed by The Weinstein Company. 109 minutes. Rated R.
The Company Men starts at the tail end of the Bush administration during the Wall Street collapse under the shadow of the corporate bailouts and economic uncertainty.
It’s certainly a timely topic for a film. More importantly, The Company Men is a nuanced and brilliant snapshot of American life in the 2000s.
Written and directed with economy and skill by TV exec John Wells (ER, Southland, the last couple of seasons of The West Wing), it is a withering look at the cutthroat corporate politics and winner-take-all mentality of all too much of big business.
The Company Men takes a look at GTX, a fictional former small shipbuilding business turned multi-national conglomerate in Boston.
The film mostly focuses on the middle management of the company – lifetime workers who are being squeezed out in a series of cost-cutting corporate layoffs. Of course, the cost cutting does not extend to the new corporate headquarters building or the CEO’s multi-millions bonus.
However, the men who had spent their lives building the corporation are finding themselves on the outside looking in, jobless, many quickly becoming destitute. As the pink slips start to fly, longtime loyal employees are forced to reassess everything they believe.
The film – despite being an ensemble drama – spends most of its time following Bobby (Ben Affleck), a young up-and-comer who is eventually reduced to moving his family in with his parents and working construction for his brother-in-law (Kevin Costner). In the meantime, his loving, loyal wife (the always reliably great Rosemarie DeWitt) has to go from propping her husband up to eventually waking him up to certain economic realities.
It actually sometimes is reminiscent of a more dramatic take the early scenes of the great 70s inflation-era black comedy Fun With Dick and Jane, also about an executive who is downsized out of his job and finds that the job market has become much more difficult while he was doing corporate lunches and hanging at the country club.
Honestly, despite the fact that the Affleck story gets the lion’s share of the time, two of the execs’ stories are much more intriguing. First there is Chris Cooper as Phil, who as a young man made the impressive jump from the factory floor to the boardroom, only to become a yes man horrified of losing his cushy perch. Once he is pink-slipped, he realizes there are few options in the corporate world for a sixty-ish salesman.
The other more interesting sort is Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), an original founder of the business who fights hard to save his worker’s jobs – and gets let go for the perceived lack of loyalty to the company.
If there is one complaint that can be made about this film – and it’s not just a small one – is that it does not touch upon the real problems of the actual hard-working factory men. These guys were bosses. If they go through this kind of turmoil, imagine the guy who was making $15.00 an hour on the line. Costner plays the blue-collar conscience as Affleck’s strident-but-ultimately giving brother-in-law – but honestly his character is just a bit too much of a know-it-all blowhard to make him a likable surrogate for the working class.
Still, even granting the movie this one little problem – after all, this is a story specific to certain characters, not necessarily the wider overview of the economic scale –The Company Men is able to distill the economic turmoil of this period in history and turns it into intriguing drama.
Perhaps because of the seriousness of the subject, The Company Men was pretty much overlooked during a brief theatrical run late last year. Hopefully it will find an audience on video, because it certainly highly deserves to be seen.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 7, 2011