Friday, December 10, 2010

The Company Men – Movie Review



Last night in my movie class, we saw the drama, “The Company Men” starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner and Maria Bello.



After several corporate executives are laid off, they struggle to get back on their feet – but with the nation currently in the throes of a severe economic recession, will any of them ever be able to find a job again? 




Bobby Walker (Affleck) is a Director of Sales who seems more proud of his golf game than anything else – but when he finds himself out of a job after severe corporate downsizing, his pride makes it difficult for him to break the news to his family.  During these rough economic times, his former employer GTX – a major conglomerate located in Boston that focuses on shipbuilding – has been forced to terminate hundreds of employees; despite the fact that Bobby has been with the company for a dozen years, the Director of Human Resources (Bello) informs him that his position has been eliminated. 


These layoffs earn the ire of Bobby’s former boss, Gene (Jones), who was not informed that head count reductions were going to take place in his division – this results in him being at odds with the CEO of GTX (Craig T. Nelson), his long time best friend.  Frustrated at work and unappreciated by his selfish shrew of a wife at home, Gene winds up engaged in an affair with the GTX Human Resources Director.  In the meantime, Bobby sets out to try to win another position immediately, but does not find this to be at all easy; opportunities are few and far between at his level and those that do arise require him to either relocate or take a 50% salary cut.  Out of desperation, he is then forced to work as a carpenter for his surly brother-in-law (Costner), with whom he has long had a tense relationship. 


Meanwhile, Phil (Cooper), someone who worked his way up from the ground floor in this company over a period of many years, learns that he is canned in a second round of layoffs.  In his late 50’s and lacking both the education and professional network to secure another position, things look particularly dire for him.  It is at this time that Gene learns he is also no longer employed at GTX, either.  Having been one of the first employees of the company, this is a exceptionally tough blow, especially combined with the fact that he was let go by someone he once considered a friend.  With a worsening economy looming in the near future, can these men somehow manage to get themselves gainfully employed before it’s too late?



Inevitably, this movie will be compared to “Up In The Air”, which was released almost exactly one year ago – unfortunately, it will not be a terribly favorable comparison as “The Company Men” is not that high a caliber of film.  For one thing, the ending is a bit muddled and feels very contrived – our instructor characterized it as almost “a Frank Capra type of ending” and I would have to agree.  Another thing is that while there are parts of the experience of these men that seem quite realistic, the portrayal of other aspects are less so because they come off as a bit too perfect – Affleck’s saintly wife and the abrupt resolution of the conflict between his character and the brother-in-law, to cite two specific examples. 


One way in which the film does try to distinguish itself from “Up In The Air” is by virtue of the fact that its story focuses more on the executive level management rather than the mid-level employees.  When we see the opulent lifestyle of some of these executives and their materialistic obsession – not to mention the fact that one of them decides to have an affair with Bello’s character in the midst of all of this mayhem – it may turn out to be quite the challenge to muster too much sympathy for some of these guys, despite the fact that a number of us may have had our own similar experience with these exercises in downsizing in the not-too-distant past. 


Lacking in any particularly unique insights provided by the screenplay, you get the impression that this is one of those rather ordinary, non-descript movies that only got made because of Affleck’s commitment – which would also explain how the rest of the cast wound up in this film as well.  “The Company Men” takes some trite turns at times, which is too bad since this topic deserved a better treatment.  According to the story I heard about the history behind this movie, the screenplay was actually written back during the recession of the early ‘90’s and was never made into a film; given the bad luck we’ve found ourselves in economically, it was thought that the time was right to dust off this script and get the movie made – sadly, the opportunity to make some revisions in the interim doesn’t seem to have taken place.