Notable Cast: Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Craig T. Nelson, Maria Bello
Review: The business world is a ruthless setting, depicted perfectly in The Company Men. Could any of us transition from a six figure salary to that of a local handy man? The story reflected solely on our economic situation and the problem many Americans are facing today. It gave society a real in-depth look at what some of our fellow citizens had or have to go through, sympathizing with their situation. Every character’s role is mapped out: our young protagonist that refuses to change his status heavy lifestyle (Affleck), the older veteran who is too weathered to be hired anywhere else and sees the end to his working career in sight (Cooper), the ethically conscious boss who raised the company with good hard workers and fights for the common man (Jones), and the dastardly CEO who only cares about some numbers on a page (Nelson). That’s as deep as the film gets though, as we never delve far enough into the men themselves. The actors could have been anyone, but the characters would have been exactly the same. Except for Ben Affleck’s character that is, because only he can don such a horrendous Boston accent. Overall, The Company Men is a well written story about dealing with life’s punches, but delivery hinders the film from reaching its full dramatic potential.
Bobby Walker (Affleck) in one day goes from average Porsche driving business man to hopelessly unemployed. His life is turned upside down as he struggles to cope with the dramatic change in routine and lifestyle. Gene McClary (Jones) can only watch as the company he helped create has to drastically reduce size in order to turn more profitable numbers under the order of CEO James Salinger (Nelson). With the massive downsizing, all the workers in the office begin to fear for their jobs, especially the aging Phil Woodward (Cooper) who has an entire family to worry about. After weeks with no call backs and a dwindling savings account for Bobby Walker, he’s begrudgingly left to work for his brother-in-law Jack’s (Costner) construction company. As Salinger continues cutting the staff down, he proves no one is safe at GTX Corporation as we witness the tremendous toll unemployment takes on not only the workers, but their entire family life. Salinger has no problem trading the livelihood of a few decent people for a couple of points in the books while he blocks out thoughts of the after effects his actions may, and do, cause.
The Company Men gets too ambitious for its own good at times, trying to create connections with too many characters in too short a time frame (even with a circa two-hour run time). The personalities are there and the actors try their best to evoke some essence in their characters, but we never really get to the core of each individual. There was a lack of build up to their actions, as it seemed each of the characters were just following their logical drawn out plot lines. The relationship between Jones’ character and his wife is never explained, just meant to be interpreted. Instances like this leave the viewer out and leaves them with unanswered questions. It feels like there’s a barrier that is never broken down between film and audience that keeps reminding us we’re only watching a movie and not in the middle of an engulfing but sad story. There’s also a slight predictability factor stemming from the clearly mapped out characters which might bother some, but nothing is ruined by this feeling.
With that said, The Company Men succeeds concerning all other parts of the film. I applaud the writing for taking all the business jargon into consideration while creating an entertaining and watchable film. It never gets too boring when tackling the more information based parts of the film. It also truly gives insight to the motivations of some big businesses, and also is an opinionated social commentary on how large corporations are being run today. There may be a tiny bit of bias in the writing, but no one can argue the validity of the points being made especially in recent years. We can watch the news and hear stories about company layoffs, but watching someone actually cope with the hardships is much more powerful than someone just rattling off facts. The multiple characters were able to translate different styles of coping, showing the multiple ways people can respond to the stresses layoffs create. When people’s lives are being shattered in front of your eyes, it leaves a lasting effect of seriousness mixed with the fear of knowing our economy is/was in the same exact situation. The Company Men is more of an informative example then it is a movie, and holds strong to at least bring you to the center of the dirty big business world some of us refuse to believe.
It’s a shame the final product was cut short minus massive star power. Between Cooper, Jones, Affleck, and Costner; not a single one ever shines. Think of them as being puppets, and we’re watching an invisible hand steering them straight ahead. There’s not much spontaneity or surprise, but The Company Men didn’t need it. Even without strong performances, an appreciation can still exist for the cast of characters just trying to live the American dream. A wage enough for a man to support his family, send his kids to college, enjoy the benefits of country clubs, and to live happy is all our victims as for; but apparently that is too much of a request for the men making billions of dollars to care about.
Final Rating: 7 hard-working every men out of 10