John Wells's The Company Men
Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
The Company Men (2010)
“The Company Men” tells a story that will hit home with millions of people who have had to struggle through the same circumstances. What would you do if you, like so many others, were suddenly laid off from your job? Bills begin to pile up with no way to pay them. Meanwhile, the job market becomes more competitive than ever with so many out of work and thousands of fresh, young graduates also looking for positions. This is the situation which the characters are facing in this very timely film.
Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) starts the day like he does every day. He dresses in a suit and heads into work where he asks for his messages from his secretary. However, today brings an urgent message from one of his bosses that she needs to see him immediately. The news is shocking. After 12 years with the company, he has been laid off, along with several others, in order to cut costs and reduce redundancies.
Soon Bobby finds himself unable to keep up his usual lifestyle: a large house for his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) and son (Anthony O’Leary), membership at a country club, and a Porsche. His search for work leads him to a facility that assists in helping people find work, which basically consists of sitting in a cubicle and making phone calls to various companies. This doesn’t exactly go well, but luckily, his wife’s brother, Jack (Kevin Costner), offers him a place in his construction crew. At least it’s something to tide him over while he continues his search.
Another story running parallel to the main one involves Bobby’s main boss, Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) who is shocked that the owner of the company, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), would lay off so many people. Things become ethically questionable when he continues to lay off more people, buys a brand new office building with plans for expansion, and still rakes in one of the top CEO salaries in the world. With so many jobs in question, a friend of Bobby’s and Gene’s, Phil (Chris Cooper), begins to worry that he could be next on the chopping block.
What we have here is an emotionally involving story that follows these people who are trying to deal with terrible circumstances. It becomes involving because of the realism of the situation, because these people could be you, your neighbors, family, or friends. When the economy went bad, it took a lot of jobs away from hard-working people. What else could they do but soldier on in an attempt to pick up their lives?
Adding to the realism are some terrific, down-to-Earth performances from such Academy Award winners as Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper. They make the desperation and hopelessness come alive, but, as one of these characters shows, there’s always a glimmer of hope. All three performers really get their chance to shine as we see the three different ways in which they deal with the problem.
Bobby’s attempt to find another job becomes one of the interesting aspects of the film. His journey leads him to several different companies where he will inevitably have to settle for making much less than the $100,000+ he was earning before. As he interviews for other jobs, there is one in which he is told that there are already several other applicants going for the position he’s inquiring about, which is probably not news to him, but is enough to set him off by giving him the impression that they think he’s somehow unqualified for it.
While his search for a new job is interesting, other choices for the character become quite strange under these new circumstances. For instance, despite not having money for all the luxuries he was able to afford before, he still insists on paying his club dues and getting work done on his Porsche, all for the sake of keeping up the appearance that he’s not just another loser with a resume. It seems obvious that such things are not nearly as important as a home for his wife and son, as well as other necessities.
The pacing of the film felt very leisurely, like it was in no rush to get anywhere or get anything done. This didn’t particularly hurt it much, but it did feel as though it was taking awhile for the plot to begin moving forward again at times. The side stories about Gene and Phil didn’t really move forward very much, but it was interesting to see things from the point of view of people who still had their jobs as others were quickly losing theirs.
The ending wraps things up neatly, perhaps a little too neatly, for these characters with a rather simple solution after so much struggle. However, this didn’t really end up being bothersome because you kind of hope this is where things will lead to. After all that’s happened to these people with their sudden layoffs and job searches, you want them to find that glimmer of hope. It may not be the “feel good movie of the year,” but it is a fascinating look at a very prominent and ongoing situation. 3/4 stars.
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