The Company Men
The Company Men touches on the very sensitive subjects of layoffs, unemployment, and unethical corporate conduct. When broaching these subjects in film, especially for those films that champion the working man that embodies the American spirit, filmmakers walk a thin line between triteness and self-proclaimed gravitas. Fortunately, John Wells, who wrote and directed The Company Men avoided these many pitfalls and stereotypes and etched out a fitting Zeitgeist film.
Before too many praises fall for Wells’ work, it immediately demands to stated that the mantle of this film fell on to its three leads, who all turned strong performances. The success of the movie as a whole can be largely attributed to them, Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper. These three hold middle and upper management positions in a fictional Boston-based company, GTX. The company goes through several waves a layoffs, originally under the guise of keeping the firm afloat, but they are inevitably exposed as ploys to keep stock prices high for those that survive the restructuring.
While women play a much smaller role, it’s worth mentioning both Maria Bello as a higher up that is both idealistic as well as part of the problem, and Rosemarie DeWitt (the unsung hero of Rachel Getting Married) who plays the supportive wife opposite Affleck. The performances of these two women are a cut above the rest.
Affleck takes lead as Bobby, a family man who loses his stately home, his Porsche, his club membership. He’s originally angry at his bosses, but mellows as he watches each of them let go. While his bank account his hit, his pride takes a harder blow when he’s forced to ask for a job from his carpenter brother-in-law Jack, played by Kevin Costner. It’s here that the film loses a bit of its exactness. The message about the necessity of taking satisfaction in earning a living with ones own hands, rather than as an executive is, at best, pandering to blue collar audiences. Fortunately, Jack is as well written as the rest of the characters and what could have been a disaster for the film, ends up as a quiet annoyance. And as much as I wanted to hate the metaphor of a fallen executive rebuilding his life as he rebuilds a historic house into its former glory, it was touching. In a schmaltzy way.
The film weaves in and out of several stories. The focus ranging from macroeconomics, to comparatively minute family matters, all affected by recession. At some points, it restricts itself to a clinical, almost disassociated view of what exactly is happening in the world. These scenes are often backdropped by news anchors discussing the decline of the economy and its effect on inflation and jobs markets. But when it should, Wells isn’t afraid to warm up to his characters, to emotionally invest, as he demands we do, in what is happening to them, as it, in reality, is happening to all of us. This style makes it difficult not to recall the better of the films depicting the events of 9/11. Like Paul Greengrass’s United 93, the emotional dramatization of real world events is extremely effective. At times, uncomfortably so. This will certainly invite reservations concerning the film, as during times like these Americans turn to movies as escapism. While Wells isn’t patronizing with a “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” type of message, he does wrap the film up with a subdued, yet firm message of hope. The Company Men is a surprisingly strong January release, with enough authenticity to win over almost anyone.