We’ve been hoodwinked my friends. Let astray. Sold a bill of goods. We were told if we work hard, study hard, do the right things and follow the rules that everything would be okay. We have been led astray. The new America has turned its backs on us, just like it turned it’s backs on the poor characters in John Wells’ recession film ‘The Company Men’. Let’s just hope that we can deal with The New America better than these cats are dealing with The New America.
Life is good for Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck). He has a good job as a regional sales manager for this big ship building company in the Boston area, he has a golf club membership, he drives a Porsche, he has a beautiful home, and equally beautiful wife (Rosemary DeWitt) and two well behaved kids. Oh well, so much for that.
Bobby’s boss is Gene McClary and he’s completely beside himself. Gene helped build this company with his best friend and company founder James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) and Gene has benefited GREATLY from the company’s success but Gene is not happy. For starters they cut his division and fired a bunch of his workers, which includes Bobby, letting Gene know about this after the fact. The worst of it, at least from Gene’s perspective, is that his company has turned its back on what made it strong to begin with… a microcosm of course of The United States as a whole…. It’s turned its back on its people.
Our third employee of this company is Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper). Phil is that guy that went from the assembly line to the board room on the strength of hard work and determination. He’s that guy that has achieved despite no formal education and he’s that guy that is completely defined by his job. Thus when his job goes away, what is Phil Woodward now?
So we follow these three men and the marginally different issues they have to deal with. Bobby is in denial about his situation until reality punches him hard in the face forcing him to eventually get a job carrying bags of cement with his working class brother in law Jack (Kevin Costner), which wasn’t easy for either man considering both of these dudes hate each other.
Gene’s issues are a bit more complex. Gene seems to despise everything that he is has become, from his mansion to his entitled wife, which could be why Gene is having an affair with Sally (Maria Bello), his company’s top head cutter. Gene is miserable. He’s retired, it was involuntary but he is retired, he has millions dollars in the bank and he has the unwavering adoration of this sizzling hot woman young enough to be his daughter who has her own stack of cash tucked away. So she doesn’t need his. We should all be so misfortunate.
Then there’s Phil. If you are defined by something and then that something ceases to exist… well… then you cease exist. At least in your mind. This cannot be a good thing. We can only hope that these things resolve themselves and this would be the main issue I had with ‘The Company Men’ in that things do resolve themselves, exactly in the way that we thought that they would.
Don’t read me wrong here because I personally think that John Wells’ ‘The Company Men’ is a fine film. Obviously it’s relevant and topical and while the movie doesn’t get too deep into the nuts and bolts of the economic downturn, it does leak out enough to let the audience know that these decisions which are highlighted by stock prices and acquisitions and mergers are all money based. Even choosing which employees to cut and which to keep are carefully thought out money based decisions. It may be a bit manipulative and heavy handed showing us a 600 million dollar a year CEO’s building palatial office complexes with Jacuzzis while little kids are forced to sell their Xboxes, in case you still don’t get it, but it’s all basically true so what can you do?
The movie is also well acted with the likes of Jones, Cooper, Costner, Bello and Eamonn Walker as an out of work engineer who makes Bobby’s acquaintance. We are not excluding Ben Affleck from the list of fine performances because he was good in this as well, which is kind of critical considering it is basically his movie, but it’s just amusing watching Ben Affleck work because twenty years ago Kevin Costner was Ben Affleck. A tall good looking dude routinely chastised for having no talent. I think by now most people know this isn’t even close to the case but I will tell you that I’m of the mind that Ben Affleck the film director is far more gifted than Ben Affleck the leading man, but that’s neither here nor there. Affleck was fine in this movie going from entitled asshole, to loser self-pitying asshole, to a resigned broken pathetic man. And Kevin Costner the older character actor is way more fun to watch work than Kevin Costner the younger superstar.
But while we enjoyed this movie, the way it played out ‘The Company Men’ hit every single note on every single beat in such a predictable rote kind of way that it left almost nothing to the imagination. Every success, every failure, every character action and reaction, every plot point, every tragedy, every soliloquy and the eventual redemption all played out exactly as you imagined it would, leaving nothing to chance. The problem this presents, at least in my opinion, is that the predetermined path that this movie travels down takes away a lot of the power in this film, and considering the subject matter and the cast at work, the feeling is this a film that should’ve had far more emotional impact that it ended up generating.
Regardless of that ‘The Company Men’ is still a well crafted, relevant, well acted film. It’s just that this is a film that possibly would’ve been better served had it taken a few more chances.