"The Company Men" Movie Review

1/22/2011 Posted by Admin

"The Company Men"

Movie Review

Written and directed by John Wells, 114 minutes, rated R.

By Christopher Smith

It's safe to say that for the majority of Americans, we give our lives to our jobs.

For some, all that's in it for them is a paycheck and the knowledge that the bills will be paid that month and that food will go on the table that day. At this point in our unstable economy, that's not a bad trade-off, especially considering the state of the rest of the world--and that many who live in our own backyards aren't nearly as lucky.

But for other Americans, those who are more fortunate and who also work hard, having the right education and the right job sometimes leads to meadows of wealth and security, promise and prestige--and, for some, even a Porche.

At least that's the case for Ben Affleck's Bobby Walker, a 37-year-old executive at GTX who makes a fat salary, lives in a massive Boston home and who is, in a sense, the master of his own universe until the planets align against him and he loses his job.

Turns out Bobby is a victim of corporate downsizing. Since he's nothing if not arrogant, he believes that soon he'll just land another job with similar pay and that will be that. At least his wife, Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt), isn’t out of touch. She has paid attention to the news and immediately initiates a budget.

Meanwhile, Bobby remains in another world, one in which he tries to keep up a front that he's still on top because, in his eyes, he must appear successful if he’s going to be successful.

And so he makes the initial rounds of trying to find work. He dresses smartly. He looks good behind the Porche. But as days turn into week and weeks into months, Bobby is struck by the fact that he might not find work. People aren't hiring like they used to and $160,000 salaries aren't as common as they once were. Although Bobby always has felt superior to Maggie's brother (Kevin Costner), it's nevertheless that brother who offers Bobby a paycheck in exchange for manual labor.

Realizing how vulnerable he is humanizes Bobby, as you’d expect, particularly when two of his superiors at GTX are fired, which Bobby never thought possible given their years with the corporation.

The men are Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), whose best friend owns the company and takes home a $22 million salary, and Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), who has worked for GTX for 30 years and knows nothing beyond its walls. Like Gene, Phil’s retirement isn't imminent. So, what is he to do now? When one headhunter suggests he dye his hair black, the look on Phil's face suggests his future was just dipped in bleak.

Humiliation burns through "The Company Men," which director John Wells based on his own script. In a way, the film is sort of the flip side of last year's "Up in the Air," in which George Clooney played a man whose job it was to fire people. In that movie, we saw his coldness give way to personal struggle and self-reflection. In this movie, we see the after-effects and the trauma that comes from being fired. In a way, they are perfect companion movies.

In the wrong hands, "The Company Men" could have slipped into a slop of sentiment, but for the most part, Wells refuses to allow his movie to go there. This is, first and foremost, a movie about "men," and what, in Wells' eyes, it means to be a man in these difficult times. His answer rests in a gamut of emotions. He shatters and embraces his share of cliches, slips in a surprise, and then offers a measure of hope--as well as great risk--when one character offers an alternative to the lives they're living now.

With "The Town" in his back pocket, Affleck has had a great year. But as good as he is here, the real reason to see the movie is for Cooper and especially for Lee, whose weathered face grounds the movie with a sadness that's almost palpable given the betrayal at hand, not to mention the corporate greed sinking so many to their knees.

Grade: B+

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