The Company Men
Starring: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Craig T Nelson, Kevin Kostner, Rosemarie Dewitt, Maria Bello
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Runtime: 109 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
Those who saw The Inside Job and were impressed by the way this Oscar-winning documentary explains the Global Financial Crisis, will also be enlightened by The Company Men, a powerful, well-acted drama which exposes the impact of the global meltdown on men who see themselves as distinct and immune in the upper echelons of corporate America.
Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a top executive in the transportation branch of GTX, a large manufacturing conglomerate employing more than 60,000 people, who defines himself by the lifestyle he leads, the house he lives in, and the Porsche that he drives.
When Bobby is summarily dismissed along with scores of others in the company’s frantic attempt to stay afloat by shedding underperforming sectors, he can scarcely believe it. But once rage leaves him, shame and humiliation takes its place and he can barely tell his loving wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) the truth, let alone his parents and siblings who are the last to know.
Bobby joins a band of other ex-business managers like himself in a job replacement centre, and after dispiriting weeks of cheerleader-like ‘positive reinforcement’ exercises and a succession of futile job interviews, he grudgingly accepts the offer made to him by his brother-in-law Jack (Kevin Costner), a building contractor, to work with him on site as a lowly carpenter.
Also ‘laid off’ is Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), previously second-in-command of the company he co-founded with his then-friend, now ruthless head honcho James Salinger (Craig T Nelson), and Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a man approaching his 60s who has been with GTX all his life, working his way up in the company from lowly origins to a top management position.
What happens to these men and their families as they reappraise themselves, their company and their nation in the aftermath of the still reverberating Recession, makes for enjoyable entertainment while providing food for thought.
Written and directed by John Wells (American television’s ER and West Wing), The Company Men is a social critique of American culture. But unlike The Inside Job it is less concerned with naming names and apportioning blame, than urging Americans to direct their gaze inwards to themselves collectively. And rather than offering Capraesque solutions to entrenched human problems, to Wells and the company men this means realistically reassessing what they and their families have lost in pursuit of the Golden Calf.
As in real life, not all the characters we follow in The Company Men find satisfactory resolution to their problems. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) plays Phil with skilfully reined-in pathos, and Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men, In the Valley of Elah) brings trademark complexity and power as the company man most likely to bring his men through tough times.
Costner acts well (against type) as Bobby’s wry, laconic brother-in-law, as do the men’s wives and mistresses (DeWitt, Patricia Kalemba, Maryann Plunket and Maria Bello). However, top honours go to Ben Affleck as Bobby, who carries the story with an engaging mixture of lightness and depth.
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