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Movie Review: The Company Men

February 4, 2011
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Some people may find that The Company Men hits a little too close to home. The movie follows a handful of employees at a large shipping company at the height of the recent economic downturn. It takes an unflinching look at what happens to their jobs, their marriages, their friends, and their honor. An excellent cast including Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, Ben Affleck, Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Chris Cooper make this film riveting and believable.

The film takes a unique approach by focusing on these men who, by most people’s standards, are fairly well off.  By humanizing their plight(s) without vilifying the men, we are able to relate to their universal struggles. After all, it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, losing a marriage or one’s dignity is going to hurt no matter what. That’s what I loved so much about the film. You want to hate the characters, but through the course of the film, you come to realize these guys are just like you and I.

Ben Affleck plays Bobby, a hotshot sales director with the company.  He’s got a giant house (mortgaged to the hilt), a hot wife, and a fancy car. He’s living the dream.  When corporate downsizing begins, his head is one of the first on the chopping block.  He’s shell shocked and embarrassed, but he is confident he’ll find another job in no time.

Months later he has been fully emasculated by his run-in with reality. He has run out of severance pay and moved his whole family back into his parents’ house.  His wife Maggie (Rosemarie Dewitt) has taken over the finances and has gone back to work at the hospital picking up nursing shifts.  When things become completely dire, he tucks his tale between his legs and takes a lowly construction job working for Maggie’s brother (Kevin Costner).

Phil (Chris Cooper) has been with the company his whole life. He’s one of the few people who actually started on the factory floor and worked his way up to management. Unlike his younger colleague Bobby, Phil has put the blood, sweat and tears into the company, and he is finally reaping the well-deserved rewards.  He’s got kids headed to college and other ongoing expenses, so when the rug is pulled out from under him, he is absolutely devastated. He knows that someone his age will never be hired by another company; he is too old.  Phil’s whole identity is wrapped up in his job, and it is difficult to see him suffer indignities that are a reality of the job market. He is told to dye his hair to look younger, for instance, which he dutifully does. But nothing can erase the lines and wrinkles that betray his real age.

Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) serves as the moral compass of the company.  His old college chum (Craig T. Nelson) owns the company,and Gene has been his right hand man.   Gene becomes increasingly disgusted and outspoken about the demoralizing layoffs the company is making, all to appease greedy shareholders.  Gene is wealthy as can be, but you can see him slowly realizing that it is not all its cracked up to be. He has a shallow wife  and an empty marriage. To show her disconnect from reality, she asks her husband to book her on a corporate jet to go golfing on the very day the company axes thousands of innocent employees.

Maria Bello plays a cut-throat HR representative who specializes in ferreting out any employee she might be able to fire.  Naturally, she is not well liked within the company.

One thing I really enjoyed about this movie is the constant shifting of relationships. Some relationships crumble under the new strains, some flourish and some people reconnect. There is also a lot of camaraderie shown between ex-employees who are now all reporting to the same job resource site. Day after day they all face hope, rejection, fear and frustration.  No matter where their place was on the corporate ladder, they are all in the same boat now.

Director John Wells doesn’t cast judgement on these corporate types who bit off more than they could chew well before they lost their jobs. He simply lets their stories unfold.  The film is well paced, well directed, and unforgettable. He also infuses the story with enough humor to keep it from being overly dreary.

While everyone in the cast is amazing, this is really Ben Affleck’s show to steal, and he is fantastic. His story arc from corporate golden boy, to rock bottom, then humble new beginnings should give everyone who’s been going through a similar circumstance comfort and hope. This movie is a perfect representation of what millions of people are going through right now.

Rating 4.5/5  Rated R. Directed by John Wells.  Written by John Wells.  Starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Craig T. Nelson, Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt.

You can watch the trailer below, and be sure to catch our interview with director John Wells.

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