Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movie Review: The Company Men

The Company Men ***
Directed by:
John Wells.
Written by: John Wells.
Starring: Ben Affleck (Bobby Walker), Tommy Lee Jones (Gene McClary), Chris Cooper (Phil Woodward), Rosemarie DeWitt (Maggie Walker), Kevin Costner (Jack Dolan), Craig T. Nelson (James Salinger), Maria Bello (Sally Wilcox), Anthony O'Leary (Drew), Eamonn Walker (Danny).

Corporations today are built to make money for the stockholders. Employees are little more than an expense line on the income statement that can be cut adrift as when the company needs to bolster its bottom line. Executives would never think of cutting their own salaries and bonuses - even though study after study show that the CEOs of major corporations make several hundred times more than most of their employees. It doesn’t matter to them when they fire hundreds or thousands of their employees - they don’t even know them.

The Company Men brings this reality home by focusing on a major corporation run by CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), who needs to get the stock price up to try and prevent a corporate takeover. In order to do that, he fires many of his employees - including Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), a salesman for the company making a hell of a lot of money. But he spends a lot of money as well. The company graciously offers to pay for 4 months at the employee placement facility. He thinks that with his MBA, and his experience, he’ll get a job quickly- but then he realizes that there are a lot of MBA’s out there - many of them younger, with no family tying them down, who are willing to work longer hours, travel more for less money. If there is little market for Bobby, then there is almost no market for his co-worker Phil (Chris Cooper) - who worked his way up from the factory floor, has no degree, and is pushing 60. Not even Salinger’s best friend Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) is immune to downsizing - although he has his millions of stock options to fall back on - whose biggest flaw seems to be that he thinks that the company owes some loyalty to the people who helped build it. It contrasts this world with the world of Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner), Bobby’s brother in law who runs his own contracting company, and is willing to lose a little money if it keeps his employees working.

The Company Men effectively dramatizes a situation that is all too common in today’s world. The economy is still in a recession, and one of the reasons why is because of situations like this. It is hard for the economy to recover when companies fire their employees, ensuring that they have no money to spend on the products they make.

The acting in the movie is effective. Ben Affleck seems to have found his groove as he has grown older - he doesn’t try as hard, and is more relaxed and is effective as an everyman. Chris Cooper channels his rage into his character, but remains sympathetic throughout. Tommy Lee Jones is excellent as the conflicted executive. Kevin Costner is effectively blue collar, even if he tries to hard to nail the Boston accent. And Rosemarie Dewitt, so good in Rachel Getting Married a few years ago, is quite good as Affleck’s wife. The rest of the cast is pretty much wasted- it saddens me to see an actress of Maria Bello’s caliber reduced to the sort of non-role she plays here.

But what keeps The Company Men from being a great film is that none of these characters are all that complex - they are defined early in the film, and never really change all that much. They remain types - effective types in most circumstances, and certainly useful for Wells to make his point, but not all that interesting apart from their roles in the film.

The Company Men is still a good film. It is one of the few dramatic films I can think of that actually tries to dramatize the current financial crisis - to put a human face on it if you will. And for that, it deserves praise.

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