THE COMPANY MEN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: John Wells

Stars: Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Craig T Nelson, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Rosemary De Witt, Maria Bello.

The recent documentary Inside Job dealt with the global financial crisis, and it named and shamed those people believed responsible, even though none of them have yet been prosecuted for fraud. The new drama The Company Men explores the human cost of the economic meltdown, and, like Wall Street before it, the film offers a scathing criticism of the corporate culture of greed. Modern American business has lost its way in the name of ever increasing profits. It no longer has a heavy manufacturing industry. It no longer makes things that people can see or use. Instead it seems focussed on the numbers at the bottom of the balance sheet.

The setting for this down beat drama is GTX, a Boston-based ship building company that has branched out into various other transport-based industries. As the recession bites, many people are retrenched, despite years of loyalty to the company that they helped build. Meanwhile the CEO Salinger (Craig T Nelson) still takes home his $22 million salary and watches his obscene stock options continue to grow in value. And while staff continues to be retrenched in the name of business efficiency and cutting overheads, the company continues to build its lavish new high rise corporate headquarters.

The Company Men essentially follows three executives who are made redundant, and we see how they struggle to cope.

Ben Affleck plays Bobby Waters, an arrogant but brilliant sales executive who learns a lesson in humility when he is suddenly thrown onto the unemployment line. No longer can he afford to maintain his extravagant lifestyle – the country club membership, the Porsche, or the sprawling family home in the suburbs. Eventually he swallows his pride and accepts a job with his carpenter brother-in-law (a nice supporting performance from Kevin Costner who is convincing as the working class man).

Chris Cooper plays Phil Woodward, who is probably the most sympathetic figure here. Phil worked his way up from the factory floor to an executive position, but he struggles to cope when abruptly let go. He finds that no one is really interested in hiring a man of his age. His life becomes empty, and he is too ashamed to even let his neighbours know that he is unemployed. Instead he maintains a façade whereby he leaves for work every morning, dressed impeccably and carrying his briefcase as normal.

The reliable Tommy Lee Jones brings his usual world-weary, cynical persona to his role as the increasingly disillusioned Gene McClary, who despite being a co-founder of GTX is cast aside by his best friend. McClary still believes that company owes a debt of loyalty to its employees, but his arguments against mass sackings no longer carry any weight in the boardroom.

There are some key women in the mix too. Rosemarie De Witt is good as Bobby’s patient and sympathetic wife who makes sacrifices to make ends meet in tough times. And Maria Bello is suitably cold as a corporate bean counter who makes the decisions on who to let go.

The Company Men is the first feature film from writer/director John Wells, who spent nine years as the head producer on hit tv series ER and The West Wing, and it is solid stuff. The film travels familiar territory and hits uncomfortably close to home at times with its predictable plot (after all, we saw this number-crunching approach to corporate downsizing in the superb Up In The Air). However it is the solid performances of the heavy weight cast that keeps us hooked.

And the final images, courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins, capture disused factories and decaying buildings, which is a good metaphor for the film’s main themes. The film’s message is strong and clear, without ever becoming too obviously preachy. All that’s missing is Bruce Springsteen from his working class Born In The USA days on the soundtrack.

★★★

 

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