Movie Review - The Company Men

Since the financial crisis in the fall of 2008, there have been several films that have commented on it. A couple of documentaries has done literal analysis like Inside Job (2010). A couple of features has tried to dramatize or comedicize the fact that people lost their jobs, lost their homes, and some lost their lives.
In the recent, Oscar-nominated film Up in the Air (2009), we got a taste of this, but it never truly put us in the shoes of the unemployed and showed us their struggles. It never personalized fully what losing your job will do to you and the true effect of what that can do. The Company Men does put you in the shoes of individuals who have become unemployed and shows us their struggles not only to find another job but also to maintain dignity.
This film focuses on three men in particular with the center being Bobby, played by Oscar-winner Ben Affleck. At the beginning, Bobby has a wealthy life. Technically, upper middle class, Bobby drives a Porsche to work. He has a fairly large, suburban home, a wife and two kids, no white picket fence, but certainly better than Barbie's dream house. That dream though becomes a nightmare when Bobby learns after a weekend of golfing that he's been laid off.
Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones plays Gene, an executive and manager of the department where Bobby works. He understands that his company GTX, a shipbuilder and manufacturer, is in a recession. As was intimated by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address on January 25, 2011, manufacturing in America is practically dying. Gene knows this first-hand because he sees it. He does what he can to hold the company together and retain as many people, but he's fighting a losing battle.
Oscar-winner Chris Cooper plays Phil, another executive at GTX who also becomes laid-off. His departure isn't immediate but the aftermath is much harder felt. Phil is thrown back into the job market and represents the older man on unemployment. He encounters problems and issues one might expect and some that one might not. Cooper's range of emotions as he experiences these issues goes from anxiety to anger to apathy and he conveys it very well.
Jones is very well here too. He's also a good sounding board for a couple of good supporting performances, in particular Craig T. Nelson who plays Jim, the President of GTX, and most especially Maria Bello (A History of Violence and The Cooler) who plays Sally Wilcox, the woman in charge of firing people. She has the George Clooney role in Up in the Air. She's just as sexy but is no where near as nice or empathetic.
The only performance in question is Ben Affleck's. His role at first is one that is sympathetic but off-putting. There is a distance and disconnect that you feel from him, a feeling a movie-goer might not like or relate, but, according to writer-director John Wells' script, this is the point. Bobby maintains a false optimism. He rejects his wife's pragmatism. He doesn't want to let go of his pride. He loses his cool in job interviews because he doesn't want to take a pay cut or do blue-collar work.
You see in Bobby as you see in others a man living in a bubble who refuses to make a move that takes him out of the safety or security of it, even if it's a false sense of security. You also see it with Jim not taking Gene's advice to ditch brand-new corporate offices rather than downsize hard-working people. You see it with Bobby not taking his wife's advice to accept a job from his uncle Jack, played by Kevin Costner.
Watching Affleck as Bobby maneuver in this bubble is awkward initially, but, as the film progresses, Affleck's eventual sincerity about the losses that occur is touching. When Bobby's son has to give up his XBOX video game and that be the straw that breaks the camel's back makes this film's stakes seem not as dire as it could or should have been, but what does happen to Bobby does ground the movie a lot.
With Bobby's interactions with Jack and Danny, another laid-off man, played by Eamon Walker (Oz and Tears of the Sun), we see Bobby give up his pride and ego. Bobby bursts the bubble he's in and learns what perhaps many people have had to learn in similar situations, that what matters in any financial downturn is hard-work, never giving up, and compassion.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and brief nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.


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