The Company Men boasts an impressive ensemble cast and a relevant message while delivering some solid cinematic entertainment. At times introspective and slow, this thoughtful drama follows a businessman who finds himself a casualty of the recession after he loses his high-paying corporate job. Helmed by John Wells, The Company Men made the film festival circuit last year and will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 7th.
Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a young family man who pulls in a six-figure salary at the giant corporation GTX. He’s a little cocky and self-sure, bragging about his golf game in the opening sequence and oblivious to some major negative vibes in the office. When he finally clues in, he discovers he’s been let go…and he’s not alone. The company, in a move to save share prices and corporate exec’s salaries, decided on a massive lay-off affecting thousands.
With the recession in full swing, Bobby heads out into the Boston job market with an impressive resume. But he soon finds he’s one among hundreds of highly qualified candidates for high-paying corporate positions, as even CEO’s are being laid-off. His wife Maggie understands what is happening long before he does. As soon as she learns what has happened, she starts cutting expenses and working on a budget, as well as taking on a part-time job. Bobby is in denial at first, telling her there’s no need to cut back on their extremely lavish lifestyle. But Maggie has seen friends in similar situations, and she knows there’s no guaranteeing he’ll work again anytime soon.
Bobby’s boss and mentor, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), isn’t happy about the lay-offs. Gene is second in command to GTX president James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), and he remembers a time when GTX was a company that built frigates and actually meant something. The company no longer really produces anything, except new highrises for the executives to enjoy. Gene begins to make a little too much noise, and before he knows it his partner and oldest friend has fired him, too.
In some fun but poignant scenes, the audience is treated to an intimate peak into what it means to be down-sized from a big corporation. Bobby gets to go to the company’s job loss center, which offers former GTX employees motivational meetings and individualized resume counseling so they can find jobs. Bobby gets dressed up in his suit every day after he is laid off and heads off to the center to send out applications and find leads. But in a few months he’s lost the suit, and is making hostile calls to the GTX ax-man (Maria Bello) who fired him. Another exec, Phil (Chris Cooper), loses his job too and joins Bobby at the center. Phil is pushing sixty, and finds change difficult.
As Bobby begins to lose his pride and realizes he might not find another job, he takes Maggie’s blue-collar brother up on his offer for work. They don’t like each other very much, but Jack (Kevin Costner) owns his own carpentry operation and Bobby grudgingly starts to work for him as a manual laborer. It’s a mortification to his sense of self-worth, but Bobby battles through it and learns to take pride in what he does, even if it doesn’t come with a country club membership and a bonus package.
Wells’ intimate look into the lives of those affected by the recession is a thoughtful study, but the slow pacing and general dullness of the story detract from the more cerebral elements. Themes of self-worth and life value are explored, as well as what role a man’s career plays in his self-estimation. Wells’ script misses the dynamic plot elements that would make his poignant film really entertaining. It suffers from a kind of hum-drum, plodding storyline that leaves the audience wishing there had been more to it. Also, the simplicity of the plot meant the film was extremely predictable. He does an admirable job of capturing the helplessness, the loss of control and the desperation that comes with losing a job, but his script simply lacked charisma.
The film, overall, had an attractive sleekness to it. Filming was smooth, shots were nicely composed (if a little safely), and the lighting and scene environments effective. Again, there was a general lack of excitement in the way Wells attacked his scenes. He did capitalize on some subtle metaphor in his imagery, as shots of the excessive and decadent grandeur of the executives’ houses had an empty, spacious feel that worked well against more intimate family scenes at Bobby’s house or at Jack’s working-class family environment.
Affleck put his natural cockiness to good use for the role of Bobby. The person he is at the beginning of the film goes through a drastic if gradual change. Affleck’s natural and easy douche at the start of the film plays well against the eventual sympathetic protagonist he plays at the end. I wouldn’t term Affleck as a great acting talent, but he has an undeniable charm that saves his characters from being unlikably arrogant. Jones and Cooper never fail to deliver. They both play older men struggling with the meaning of life, and their own place in the world. While Cooper gives a raw honesty to his portrayal of wavering Phil, Jones maintains a strong presence throughout the film, both emotionally and ethically. Jones, as usual, gives a no-frills but weighty performance.
I’m not sure I liked Costner in the role of Jack. I’m not sure I like Costner in any role. Plus, and this was a glaring absurdity, Costner played Maggie’s brother. Costner is pushing 60, and his character was supposed to be, I‘d guess, about 20 years younger than that. At first this caused a little confusion, because I thought he must be Maggie’s father. He did a competent job as the blue-collar brother-in-law with a chip on his shoulder, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen from Costner before and he certainly wasn’t stretching himself.
Bello always impresses me, and as the cold-as-ice company ax-man she really shines. She’s got great presence and plays strong women with an unwavering bravery. Nelson entertained in his small role as president of GTX. Bobby’s wife Maggie was played by Rosemarie DeWitt, a girl-next-door looking actress who took on the role and gave it plenty of wholesomeness. She’s done mostly TV, with a short-run role on AMC’s Mad Men as Midge Daniels. Her supportive wife came across patient and hopeful, but could have used more angst.
The Blu-Ray offers great picture and the sleekness of the filming comes to sharp-edged life in hi def. Wells’ knack for scene composition and attractive settings made for a visual treat, and natural colors came through true and strong, saturation levels spot-on. The transfer wasn’t flawless; I detected a few seconds of reddish overlay when the credits rolled.
The audio offers the same sleekness as the filming. The soundtrack had some middling songs and tunes, nothing extraordinary, and thankfully it was a subtle addition to the film and not overbearing. Dialogue came through crisp and clear in general, and there were some authentic vocal reverberations when scenes were set in small rooms, or other set considerations changed the tonal quality of the voices.
As far as extras, The Company Men is decently packed. This is what it offers:
- Alternate Ending
- Audio Commentary with writer/director John Wells
- Making The Company Men
- Deleted Scenes
So of these, the alternate ending is the most disappointing. It is a total bait and switch. You end up watching the last ten minutes of the film again completely unchanged except for the addition of one line of dialogue. And then it chops off the last three minutes of the original film and calls it an alternate ending.
Wells’ audio commentary was solid, but the “making of” gave some good information and cast/crew interviews. Wells went through his filmmaking process and the inspiration for the story, as well as the kinds of research he did to give the film authenticity.
The Company Men is not always fun to watch, as its relevancy and subject matter may hit close to home for some. While the personal journey of Bobby and the others affected by the recession is attractively sleek and touching, it’s also a slow, emotion-driven drama that has little going on plot-wise. Given the quality of performances I think The Company Men is worth a rent on Blu-Ray, especially if you’re in the mood for some social commentary.
The Company Men is a relevant movie that features a great ensemble cast and a touching story.