12 June 2011
As a well acted drama “The Company Men” finds moderate success; but as a scathing attack on the perils of corporate greed? Not so much. Director John Wells has assembled a wonderful cast for his recession based feature, but ultimately fails to do anything memorable with the subject matter. “The Company Men” is a polished and professionally sculpted piece of cinema for sure, but its reliance on pointing out the obvious is a glaring flaw. Aside from highlighting that unemployment sucks and suggesting businessmen can be dicks, the picture really doesn’t have much of value to say.
After being fired by his longtime employers, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck in good form) is left jobless and strapped for cash. With a family to support, Bobby immediately begins to hunt out prospective jobs, but as the months roll by his optimism and energy begin to fade. Also axed from the same company is Phil (Chris Cooper) and second in command Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), a pair of older gentlemen befuddled by their newfound situation. Gene is helpless as the industry he helped shape self-destructs, whilst Phil is left terrified by the fact his age renders him obsolete in a game dominated by swaggering young yuppies.
The performances are superb from all quarters, Chris Cooper and Affleck in particular wresting with tough writing to come up trumps. Wells (who also penned the screenplay) paints Bobby as kind of a jerk, but Affleck is able to revive the character thanks to his nuanced depiction of a desperate man down on his luck. There’s a vulnerability to Affleck’s turn that renders the character relatable, and subsequently makes the film much more digestible. Tommy Lee Jones is his usual moody but highly dependable self, despite the fact he’s forced to partake in a formless onscreen relationship with an underutilized Maria Bello. Jones generally barks his lines with aggression, but during the film’s slower segment he’s just as effective at enunciating his feelings through dignified silence. Cooper is tasked with tackling possibly the most formulaic screen entity, but the actor imbues the part with genuine sadness and pathos, leading his arc to conclude on a particularly affecting note. The supporting players include Kevin Costner (adequate but not overly likable), Rosemarie DeWitt (subtle as Affleck’s understanding wife) and Craig T. Nelson (underwritten), but “The Company Men” is a movie dominated by its trio of leading thespians, all of whom deliver sterling work.
The story flows gently, intertwining its various subplots with skill and efficiency. Much like the picture’s central thesis on industry, the various human narratives aren’t primed with anything too refreshing or original, but Wells does take the time to craft these components with detail and care. There are portions of “The Company Men” that fall victim to an unwelcome cornball tone (the finale is the grandest offender), but the domestic lives of the unfortunate protagonists feel very real. There’s an underlying soul here, something that helps compensate for the movie’s general lack of insight.
“The Company Men” doesn’t pull many punches, and is at times brutally honest, but the production suffers from a lack of intriguing perspective. Simply howling at multi-million dollar conglomerates for being greedy doesn’t automatically grant this sort of art a sense of weight or purpose, indeed had Wells kept “The Company Men” out of the offices, and exclusively in bars and homes then it would almost certainly be a more invigorating watch. For those seeking competently assembled and heartfelt filmmaking then you could do much worse, but I have a feeling that Wells’ commentary on the economic calamity of 2009 will soon be forgotten by the world at large.
The film is presented in a sharp transfer, but there are no extra features. It’s ultimately quite a disappointing disc from Universal.
“The Company Men” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from July 18th 2011
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011