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3 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Company Men, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Riches to rags to rapproachment."
3 stars

"The Company Men" is a perilous balance of schadenfreude and nostalgia for a saner world. It might be better if writer/director/producer John Wells was a little more overtly rabble-rousing, but maybe he's too conscious of his own success in the entertainment business to do so without feeling a hypocrite.

In 2008, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is on top of the world, an executive at Boston-based GTX (which stands for "Global Transportation Enterprises", sort of, but has long since diversified from its shipbuilding roots), but that is all about to fall apart as a merger of two divisions makes his job redundant. His severance is reasonably generous, but as he works on finding a new job at an "outplacement" center - sharing a cubicle with engineer Danny (Eamonn Walker), who has been at it for a few months - his colleague Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) frets that he may be the next on the block (he makes senior salesperson money and his numbers have been slipping). Meanwhile, the company's vice-president, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) frets over the good people being let go, especially since CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) seems far more concerned with the value of his stock and fighting a buyout than the actual operation of the company.

There is, without a doubt, a certain amount of pleasure at watching Bobby get taken down a peg or three. The smug, entitled yuppie getting his comeuppance is one of the things that Ben Affleck does extremely well, in part because he knows how to measure those qualities for what the role demands - Bobby starts out more crass than cruel, and his reluctance to see what sort of bad shape he's in is generally on the more palatable side of the border between pride and arrogance. Wells uses the characters of Bobby's family to good effect - Rosemarie DeWitt's pragmatic wife both softens him and highlights his impracticality, while Kevin Costner's blue-collar brother-in-law and his constant stream of why we hate big business is both saying what much of the audience is thinking and overly combative. It's a nice job by Wells, Affleck, and that part of the supporting cast, really - a tricky but believable transition from enjoying Bobby's failure to rooting for his success.

The other half of the movie isn't quite so well-done. It's admittedly a trickier set of issues, and even combined, Phil and Gene don't have a network of supporting characters that compares to Bobby's. There's not much of a path for the older characters to follow - Gene is first introduced by being shown as unusually honest during an investors' meeting, while Phil doesn't do a lot other than looking angry and threatened. It is some of the greatest looking angry and threatened you'll ever see, because Chris Cooper is a guy that can build an entire character out of facial expressions and body language; by the time it's all said and done, he has probably made Phil just as interesting a character as Tommy Lee Jones's Gene. As good as Jones is, Gene's evolution is perhaps too subtle; we may need to see him start out closer to Craig T. Nelson's Salinger. We're pushed to like Gene too early.

Of course, Salinger's a monster, the sort where one might accuse Wells of creating a straw man if CEOs more fixated on manipulating their companies' apparent worth than providing a quality service weren't so ubiquitous in the news. That is, of course, the point that Wells is looking to make at both the macro and micro level - that worrying about appearances, whether it be GTX's stock price, Phil's self-image, or Bobby's need to look successful, is ultimately a hollowing experience, whereas true satisfaction comes from doing honest work - the kind that results in something tangible - and being paid a fair wage for it. That's what the film's men either know instinctively, must learn, or can't fathom. It's a simple moral, and Wells doesn't leave much room to doubt his message even as he shows his characters wrestling with it.

Some may find, at the end, the he believes in this message too much or too literally, and the finale does seem like how this sort of movie would have ended in the 1930s. Plenty probably did, but aren't seen that often because they didn't become the classics that live on in rep screenings and TCM reruns. Similarly, "The Company Men" likely won't achieve classic status, but it's still timely, well-performed, and earnest.

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originally posted: 01/26/11 15:48:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2010 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/09/11 mr.mike Actors are saddled with unsympathetic characters. 3 stars
6/13/11 Shaun A Excellent drama, and I wasn't bothered by its feelgood nature 4 stars
2/20/11 RePTaR The ending was horrible, just one of those feel good things. The characters learned nothing 3 stars
2/12/11 Jeff Wilder Good voerall althouhg I suspect that this one may seem dated in about 10 years. 4 stars
1/11/11 Harvey W VG movie except the Happy??ending 4 stars
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  21-Jan-2011 (R)
  DVD: 07-Jun-2011


  21-Jan-2011 (M)
  DVD: 07-Jun-2011

Directed by
  John Wells

Written by
  John Wells

  Ben Affleck
  Kevin Costner
  Maria Bello
  Tommy Lee Jones
  Chris Cooper
  Rosemarie DeWitt

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