The Company Men
Seems a bit dressy for the DMV.

Theatrical Release Date: 01/21/2011
Director: John Wells
Cast: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson, Kevin Costner


Call my agent. Tell him we need to “talk”.

Up in the Air was a critical hit and audiences seemed to agree for the most part. Although it dealt with the growing unemployment problem caused by the latest recession, the core of the film was seeing George Clooney’s character realize what he should be prioritizing in life in order to find happiness.

If anyone wondered how “The Company Men” might stack up, stop wondering and start looking elsewhere to find a worthwhile time at the theaters.

Writer/director John Wells reminds us of some absolute truths regarding big business; namely that making shareholders happy is an entirely different goal than making employees happy. But we all know this. Big corporations have to show a profit and entice Wall Street gurus to find their stock valuable or else fall prey to mergers, takeovers or bankruptcy.

Most of us are also aware that one of the standard ways to “improve” how good the balance sheet looks is to layoff a segment of the workforce. That’s the starting point for “The Company Men”, as Wells introduces us to the GTX corporation. Now a conglomeration of companies, it began with ship building and the key players in this tale are the CEO (Craig T. Nelson), an executive VP (Tommy Lee Jones), and two other high level managers (Chris Cooper and Ben Affleck).

In order to raise the share price, thousands of workers are laid off, including Affleck and Cooper. What follows then is a pity party for these six-figure earners forced to confront the real world the substantial majority of Americans already know about.

You see, the problem with this film isn’t the acting – that’s decently done. It isn’t so much the individual components either, such as cinematography, score, production design, etc. They’re all handled well. No, the problem is how do you expect the average audience member to empathize with people who make anywhere from two to five times their salary and then whine about how tough it is to find a new job that will pay them close to six figures again?

Compounding this issue is that Affleck, who’s really the central figure of it all, is a jerk. He’s so caught up in being the bread winner that the hit to his pride is what hurts him most. It takes him far too long to realize that he’s lucky to get a job at all, let alone a good paying one, in this economy. Cooper’s story arc is so cliché it might as well have come off of a cereal box. Tommy Lee Jones attempts to be the strong moral center but his big words end up feeling like a series of meaningless platitudes.

The families and friends are mere accessories in the film, with most of the attention being given to Rosemarie DeWitt playing Affleck’s wife. She’s practically a saint, as are their kids, and seeing as I felt nothing for Matt Damon’s BFF, I kept hoping she’d leave him and find a less whiny, less self-pitying man.

I’ve sat through plenty of middling films in 2010 (this was released in NY and LA for a week in December to qualify for awards season). There have been a few really good ones and a few really bad ones as well. Well, in terms of enjoyment, this falls right near the bottom of the list. I was offended at the notion that I’m supposed to feel sorry for any of the high-level employees who find themselves the victim of the same cost-cutting measures that kicked thousands of workers from the same company to the curb before them. The shallow attempt to redeem Affleck didn’t work, and I was doubly offended at how Wells tried to spin the ending into something almost feel-good; after spending so much time wallowing in white collar guilt.

After all that ranting, keep in mind that this isn’t a poorly made film; it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it to exist. The target demographic is very well paid executives who haven’t been laid off (yet). Anyone who works outside the corporate inner circle will just resent the characters, be offended by their whining and feel patronized by the script. And if you can identify with this cast of characters, why would you want to relive it? As such, I’m giving “The Company Men” a 1 out of 5. Just because you make a film with decent acting and utilize adequate film making standards doesn’t mean the end result is something worth watching. And this clearly isn’t.

1 out of 5