The current economic state is a hot topic in the world today. I think that I can safely say that almost everyone has felt its presence either financially or mentally. Just as 2009’s “Up in the Air” showed a company’s downsizing from the corporation’s perspective, director John Wells has written, produced and directed a film that shows just how this crisis affects those in corporate positions when the cut backs reach their door.
“The Company Men” opens showing news reports detailing the failing market and economy at the end of 2010. We then meet Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) and see his beautiful house, car, wife and kids. He is happy, healthy and very wealthy … and then the recession rears its ugly head when he is called into the office of human-resources specialist Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) and told very abruptly that he is being let go but will have a three months’ severance package. Next on the chopping block is Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), an executive who has been with the company over 12 years. Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), who has helped build this company from nothing to the global conglomerate it is today, has come to despise the way it’s run by president and C.E.O. James Sailnger (Craig T. Nelson). Showing disdain and insubordination, Gene manages to hold onto his job longer than the others, but is eventually let go.
Now, each has to try to re-enter the workforce later in life. With the economy being down and with much younger competition this time, does each man have the patience to handle the stress and disappointments that come with job hunting or will it be an overwhelming force that could tear their lives apart?
Although this can be quite a depressing movie, it is also touching and hits close to home. While the story may be simple, the acting and relationships you see onscreen make it compelling to watch. Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones especially shine throughout the film. Tommy Lee Jones from the beginning was shown as being opposed to lay-offs and even suggested cutting spending or bonuses for the board of the company — you see him as “one of us,” an everyman’s man. The sheer disgust you see when his wife Cynthia (Patricia Kalember) comes home with an end table that costs over $1,200 really shows you how uncomfortable he is living so easily while people he knows are suffering. Then there is Ben Affleck’s character Bobby. At first, I really hated him; he just seemed arrogant to the reality of his financial situation. In a time when he couldn’t even afford to pay his rent or his daughter’s school tuition fees, he refuses to give up his Porsche or his expensive club fees where he plays golf. He even turns down an opportunity to work with his brother-in-law Jack (Kevin Costner) doing construction on a house because he says he can’t see himself doing physical labor. But, as you may have guessed, he softens up through the film and becomes a more relatable person.
Although this movie is about three men on different levels in a corporation being let go due to the economy, its true impact is seeing how unemployment affects themselves, their families and the community they live in. There are some really great scenes between Affleck’s character Bobby and his wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt). She is a realist and at the onset of him being laid-off she wants to cut costs and talks about living on a budget as he looks for work. I really like Maggie because she seems to be the most level-headed out of the group of characters. She also lets him know in a really touching moment that it isn’t all of the “stuff” that she loved when he was working, but the fact that they are now together more than they ever were before when he was employed. You also get to see the intelligence of children when their son Drew (Anthony O’Leary) asks his mom to take back his Christmas presents because he knows they can’t afford them. Those are some of the truly heartwarming scenes in a truthful and brutal look at the way our economy affects us all.
There is also a lighter and more playful side to this movie. As each employee is laid-off, they are sent to an agency where they are taught how to be the best representative of themselves to future employers. After a quick seminar, they are sent to share a cubicle with other unlucky and unemployed people who are also looking to find work. There are some really great secondary characters played by Tom Kemp, Eammon Walker and Cady Huffman. Seeing each as rivals at first, they begin to enjoy each other’s company, goof around when they are tired of receiving rejection notices from potential employers, and even enjoy drinks together in the middle of the afternoon. This helps lighten the mood throughout the movie when things get pretty intense.
Overall, I would say that this portrayal of corporate downsizing seems a bit understated, but still accessible to most Americans in this recession. Although many of us may not have been in those exact situations or positions, we all can relate to needing to cut down expenses or living on a budget. That’s where this movie succeeds in reaching the viewer. I, for one, hope that this movie is viewed in the future and these harsh financial times are seen as a thing of the past. One can always hope.
“The Company Men” opens in theaters today and is rated R for language and brief nudity.
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