Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: John Wells

Cast: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Rosemarie DeWitt, Chris Cooper, Maria Bello, Kevin Costner

MPAA Rating: R (for language and brief nudity)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 12/10/10 (limited); 1/21/11 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 20, 2011

It's a good thing he has his golf score about which to brag that morning, because from there on, it's an uphill climb for Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck). In almost immediately presenting Bob as a man on the decline, The Company Men wisely and mostly avoids identifying him as a member of a certain class.

He is not defined by his previous salary (six figures), his car (Porsche), or his house (sizeable) but by his new station in life: unemployed. That he desperately holds on to the trappings of affluence of his former life is, perhaps, to be expected, since he, unlike the other two men who were above him at the company that let Bob go and who later deal with the same state of lack of employment, has grown up with the impression that success in life is about one's paycheck, the car one drives, and the amount of extra rooms in one's home.

He feels he has failed, despite the fact there was no way to prevent the loss of his job. He feels like less of man, because he can longer provide for his family in the same way or soon, if he doesn't find a job before his severance runs out, in any way. He is suffering the pain of anyone who loses a job through no fault of his or her own, and suffering knows no class.

The film doesn't, either. There is certainly room for criticizing writer/director John Wells' choice of ignoring the existence of those in Bob's company who are let go to improve its stock but whose collars aren't white, although to make that argument, one must basically dismiss the film at hand wholesale. In other words, it's best to avoid that argument.

Bob's company ends his employment against the wishes of his division's head Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), who was out of town for a conference appearance, during which he is a bit too honest for the liking of his oldest friend and the company's CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson). His severance package includes four months of pay and the same amount of time in outplacement (aka, "Please, don't sue") services, though he's confident it'll only take a few days before he finds a new job.

Meanwhile, Gene finds it more and more difficult to continue the corporate grind, watching as his old, dear friend rents office space in a new building just for himself, Gene, and other top-dollar executives, is ranked in a list of the top-earning CEOs in the country, and plans more layoffs to make their stockholders more comfortable. He, like Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), started with the business when it much smaller and cared more about its employees, because they were doing the manual labor, too.

Wells' interpretation of the jobless crisis and the crisis of the jobless is a simple but honest one. The screenplay makes its points clear, using characters as mouthpieces to espouse talking points. Bob's wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) insists they scale back on their expenses—eat out less, drop the country club membership, maybe sell the house and move back home with his parents. Her brother Jack (Kevin Costner), who builds houses for a living, decries companies shipping manufacturing jobs overseas (Since he, his crew, and a single engineer (Eamonn Walker) from outplacement services are the film's only representatives of blue-collar workers, it is truth in words and presentation).

Then there's Jones, who can encapsulate humanity's weariness with a changing world just by nature of his appearance. His character, like Jack, also remembers a time when Americans built things they could see and touch (more important things than houses, apparently). He's a bit more hopeful and relaxed with his introspection after receiving his pink slip (from the human resources rep (Maria Bello) he's seeing on the side, no less) than Phil, who realizes company's don't want to hire a man pushing 60 with gray hair.

Chances at jobs come occasionally for Bob, and when they do, he's competing against more qualified or younger candidates—the former being overqualified for but also needing to take any job that's out there, and the latter having no kids or mortgages to distract them. Hard times continue, until he finally accepts work from Jack, working with his hands for the first time ever.

The Company Men is all very cut and dry, from Bob's humbling experience being out of work to the crushing one for Phil to the just-right opportunity that Gene grows to see that conveniently solves all the problems (a temporary fix until they, most likely but unspoken, raise their head again). That doesn't, though, make the film any less truthful in its observations.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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