Title: The Company Men
Directed By: John Wells
Starring: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kevin Costner, Craig T. Nelson, Eamonn Walker
Whether it’s happened to you or someone you know, job loss is a personal matter for the large majority and that makes it a testy topic to manage in a film. If it isn’t represented accurately it could be insulting, then again if it’s dealt with too precisely, it could be too much for some to handle, however, The Company Men approaches the issue quite tactfully. Not only does it deliver a respectable presentation of the hardship, but still manages to maintain a light enough tone making the film a viable source of entertainment rather than just a pity party. In fact, The Company Men might also be a fantastic source for those in need of a little hope.
It doesn’t matter how high you are on the food chain; at GTX, Global Transportation Systems, everyone is on the chopping block during a recession. One of the first to feel the effects of corporate downsizing is Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), a family man who enjoys cruising around town in his Porsche and improving his golf game. Bobby is certainly angry when he gets the bad news, but pulls himself together quickly and heads into the world of unemployment sure he’ll only be there for a short while. Days turn into weeks and weeks into months leaving Bobby no choice, but to go to work for his brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) building houses.
Meanwhile, back at GTX, longtime employee Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) is paranoid his day will come, too. Sure enough, he becomes a victim of a second round of cuts as does the company’s second in command, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones). All three men suffer the same fate, but their roads to redemption are wildly different.
Nowadays, when you make a movie about people losing jobs, it’s inherently engaging and writer-director John Wells knows it. However, he certainly doesn’t rely on it. Wells brings us three rather typical characters – the family man who loses everything, the big boss man who’s taken down for fighting for what’s right and the dedicated, but outdated employee who can’t compete with younger candidates – but spices them up with a great deal of depth and then really seals the deal with excellent casting.
Affleck is the main man and the perfect person to carry the audience through the film. He’s easily the most relatable of the bunch and gives off such a degree of warmth, it’s impossible not to sympathize with his situation. The one element that is a bit off in his world is his wife, Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt). It isn’t clear whether this is due to DeWitt’s performance or odd directing by Wells, but her character feels very unnatural. When Bobby comes home and breaks the news, Maggie isn’t the least bit concerned. In fact, she’s never really concerned until Bobby throws a fit about losing his country club membership. She’s just busy cutting costs throughout the family as if it were an everyday activity.
Bobby’s relationship with his brother-in-law, Jack, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite. Affleck and Costner have a fantastic chemistry that makes their moments work when they’re butting heads and during more sympathetic times, but still maintain enough of their characters’ original sentiments to make the transition seamless.
However, the moments between Jones and Craig T. Nelson who plays James Salinger, the GTX CEO and Gene’s good friend, is quite the opposite. James is supposed to be a heartless, money hungry boss, but Nelson takes things a bit too far and turns not caring about anything but himself, into a wooden and uninteresting personality. Jones has a similar problem when sharing the screen with Maria Bello who plays another GTX employee, Sally Wilcox, with whom Gene is having an affair, but this time around, it’s mainly due to lack of character development. Sally is actually a pretty colorful character. She’s the woman in charge when it comes to adding names to the list when it’s time to let employees go. Between Sally’s situation and Bello’s ability, the character feels like a missed opportunity on Wells’ part. More Bello and less Dewitt might have been the way to go.
However, Jones’ character wins big in another relationship, but the success of this friendship is largely due to Cooper. Cooper’s character takes on more of a supporting position to Gene and Bobby, but he certainly has the strongest impact. Cooper is one of those guys who doesn’t need a single line of dialogue to get his point across. On top of that, Phil really is one of the most emotionally impactful characters of the film. While there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel for Gene and Bobby, Gene already being very wealthy and Bobby still young and “highly employable,” Phil is a lost cause and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
As good as some of the performances and story elements are, it’s hard to ignore how predictable the film is. Portraying job loss in the film is a double-edged sword; it’s timely and emotional, but we know what’s going to happen most of the time. There are a few surprises in there that pack quite a punch, but you’ll get a sense of what the resolution will be early on.
Then again, predictability is far better than a plain old dull story and that The Company Men is not. Minus the aforementioned issues and some awkward shot selection, The Company Men is a passionate film and wholly deserving of your time. The mix of a concerning reality with a sense of hope is the perfect way to present such a touchy topic that’s hitting home for one too many people today.
By Perri Nemiroff