The Company Men is a movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a while. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Ben Affleck, with supporting roles going to Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kevin Costner and the always enjoyable Eamonn Walker, the acting seemed particularly promising. The film looked to offer an honest, touching and accurate portrayal of what it was like for many people during the recent global recession. Director John Wells brings us a tale of three men, all of whom are the victims of corporate downsizing, and attempts to show us how they deal with it. While the film hiccups here and there, as a whole, it’s a fairly strong movie and offers us an engaging, intelligent and emotionally satisfying tale, bolstered by some very strong acting.
The Company Men is an engrossing and certainly timley character study. Television powerhouse John Wells does his best to craft a relevant film that may just hit too close to home for some. Luckily, despite the grim and often devestating subject manner, there’s always a hint of optimism in the silver lining that keeps us watching.
As mentioned above, the film follows three individuals. Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is the first individual we’re introduced to. Bobby is a white collar corporate employee, he’s a sales manager at GTX pulling in around $160,000 yearly. Near the start of the film, he is unceremoniously fired and his life begins to fall apart. At first he isn’t worried, he expects to find a job in no time. After furiously searching though, he realizes that in these tough economic times, finding a job is a lot harder than expected, even for someone as qualified as himself. As Bobby struggles to find work, he tries his best to keep up his appearance, by detailing his Porsche, playing at his golf club etc. With more and more time passing by, and Bobby still unable to find work, he has to start making sacrifices in his life and perhaps has to switch to a simpler lifestyle.
Next we have Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a VP at GTX. With more than enough experience working for the company, his position seems safe from the recent corporate downsizing. In these times though, no one is safe, and to his shock and awe, Phil is fired. Getting on in age, Phil finds it very difficult to compete in the corporate world. While trying to find a job he sees that he simply can’t compete with the twenty something year old MBAs that are spilling out of graduate schools.
Lastly there is Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), he’s in charge of an entire division at GTX and has perhaps the most job safety, as he is the highest up on the corporate ladder out of the three. He’s against the recent firings and sticks up for the workers who have been let go. He is also carrying on an affair with a young HR exec named Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello).
As the film unfolds, we witness how the recent downsizing of GTX impacts the lives of Gene, Bobby and Phil. We see them struggle to come to terms with the new directions their lives have taken and we watch as sometimes, the effects are devastating. While the end of the film ultimately wraps things up all too nice and pretty, there are real hardships along the way and not everyone makes it out alright.
The story is engaging and the fact that it’s timely and authentic does help pull you in, but I was disappointed with the fact that Wells fell into Hollywood convention with the uplifting and somewhat sappy ending. It felt out of place and awkward. Along the way the film does become a bit too preachy at times but overall, the story is well written and interesting, despite being a bit too conventional and wrapping things up too neat and tidily.
Frequent Coen Brothers cinematographer and one of the best in the business, Roger Deakins, shows up here to provide some deft camera work that gives the film a real poignant feeling to it and complements John Wells’ direction. Wells’ direction is solid but his script could use some work. It eloquently weaves the three main stories together in an often effective way, despite handling some subplots crummily (left unfinished or forgotten about). And while it’s filled with thoughtful idioms, it does have a few pacing problems and really suffers from the sappy ending. Throw in the often nauseating ‘even the rich are hurt in these tough economic times’ message and you get a script that isn’t exactly perfect.
It’s not the easiest film to sit through either. Unemployment is no joke and for those who don’t know what it’s like, this is a serious wake up call. It’s portrayed in a blunt manner and the film doesn’t soft pedal anything. We see how emasculating it can be to lose your job, especially in a world with such stiff cultural norms.
The cast is probably the strongest part of the film. Everyone shines here, even the supporting actors. Affleck, who is re-building his career one brick at a time, much like his character Bobby, makes yet another great choice by taking the role. I’ve mentioned before that I never thought much of Affleck as an actor but after The Town and now The Company Men, I’m beginning to get back on the Ben wagon. He gives a truly great performance, on par with his acting in The Town and definitely worth watching.
Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones are two of the finest actors currently working today. I would expect nothing less than outstanding performances from both and that’s exactly what they give. Cooper’s character is the most tragic and he nails it. He’s perfect for the part and I couldn’t think of anyone who could play it better. As for Mr. Tommy Lee Jones, we haven’t seen a whole lot of him lately, so his screen presence is always a treat. Like Cooper, he’s the perfect guy for the role, and the scenes between him and Chris are wonderful to watch.
Supporting cast members are equally as good. Kevin Costner needs no explanation. His role is small but like Tommy Lee Jones, his lack of film appearances in the past few years, makes his performance here all the more welcome. He does admirable work and provides a great supporting character. Maria Bello also doesn’t have a huge role but does a good job with the material she has. Her character is slightly underwritten but she turns in a fine performance.
Rosemarie DeWitt plays Bobby’s wife Maggie and works nicely with Affleck. She plays off of him very well and is a pleasure to watch on screen. Eamonn Walker rounds out the supporting cast and as expected, he does an excellent job. He has great screen presence and I wish his part was a bit larger. That being said, anytime we get to see Mr.Walker in a film it’s a treat, so I’ll take what I can get. I’ve been a big fan of his since the days of Oz and I always enjoy watching him act.
At the end of the day, The Company Men is a very good film, with only a few minor flaws that hold it back from being a great film. The great acting alone makes it worth the watch but the authentic and emotionally engaging story really turns the film into a winner. The ending wasn’t exactly what I wanted to see, and the script is sloppy at times, but overall this is a very strong film that is definitely worth seeing.