Director: John Wells
Featuring: Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones
Running Time: 104 minutes
Available for purchase at: Madman Online Store ($34.95)
Of course, the recession was famous not only for sparking a huge monetary crisis around the world – it was also an opportunity for filmmakers, writers, and scholars to comment on the American situation and way of life. In the crop of post-GFC films, there are resonating themes of the value of money versus. the importance of family, reminders that the career isn’t everything, and questions of the capitalist society in which the States exists within.
The Company Men is yet another one of these recession-inspired films, with an impressive cast including Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, and Tommy Lee Jones. With such a stellar lineup and such a relevant issue, it would be safe to assume the film is brilliant – even Oscar-worthy, like Jason Reitman’s 2009 flick, Up in the Air. However, assumptions can often be wrong: The Company Men is an attempt to gaze into the middle-class working home, but the gaze is narrow-minded, clichéd, and at parts, it’s just plain dull.
The plot is as standard as you would expect. The GTX Corporation is cutting jobs after the 2010 recession hit them hard, and as a result Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is terminated from his position. Bobby tries to find another job, expecting it to be easy; however, he is greeted with stacks of long lines of people waiting for queues, and full rooms of recently terminated employees chanting “I can do it”. Soon, Bobby is left with no job and no redundancy package; his wife goes back to work part-time in order to support the family, but it isn’t enough to maintain their expensive lifestyle. When Bobby’s brother-in-law offers him a job at his construction company, he reluctantly takes it in order to feed his family.
Ben Affleck looking slightly pensive.
At the same time, Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) is dealing with the fact that his job is on the line at GTX, and Gene McClary, one of the executives, is struggling not only with the company’s dramas but at having to terminate his friends and colleagues.
Yes, the storyline is mediocre: typical suburban family’s life gets turned upside down, but in doing so realises there is more to life than just a job. It’s cliché because it’s so relatable and we’ve seen it all before on the news and in the movies – and sure, it’s a great insight into the world of the shattered American dream, but I just didn’t enjoy watching yet another one of these films. There was no unique spark to it; rather, the film chugged on and on like a broken record.
If there is something to be praised upon in The Company Men’s narrative, though, it is the fact that it shows three different perspectives of the recession: the employee who has been terminated, the one who worries about termination, and the employer who has to deal with letting people go. To be able to see all the sides means it is a very well-rounded film in terms of presenting points of view, and is definitely better than simply following Walker through yet another recession tale.
The main characters in the film are Bobby Walker, Phil Woodward, and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones). All three were (or are) involved with GTX Corporation, and all have been affected by the circumstances. Affleck gives a solid portrayal of Walker as a man who is hit hard by his circumstance and eventually has a change of attitude; you can see the pain and resignation in his face when he realises he may never get his old life back. With that being said, his character is still too cookie-cutter for my liking and Wells just didn’t push the development far enough so Walker ends up being someone that is too forgettable. Cooper’s character, Phil Woodward, is equally as cookie cutter; however, this guy doesn’t evoke sympathy so much as he made me want to give him a good hard smack on the face. Instead of being a strong character that takes his situation and does what he can, he hopelessly tries to hide in his office to avoid termination. Sure, he represents a fair majority of those who are terrified of termination, but he really didn’t inspire any emotion in me and, to be quite frank, the narrative would have been fine without him.
Tommy Lee Jones as Gene McClary.
Hands down, in The Company Men, the shining performance was delivered by Tommy Lee Jones. His character was one that was more complex than the rest, and he shed light on the rather elusive position of the boss that actually has a human side. While many were getting frustrated with their bosses during the GFC, McClary is a rare peek at how painful life can often be for those who are higher up on the corporate ladder.
The other characters do not feature too much in the film, however what did frustrate me was how passive all the wives of these men were. True, their husbands pull in a six-figure salary, but the women seem too much like housewives to be really considered as a part of the mid-to-upper class family. Where Wells could have broken outside the boss and given the audience a look into the struggles of a working family, he instead opted to keep the women passive and present a very one-sided portrayal in terms of gender.
Visually, the film is not innovative but it certainly does get the point across: a slightly blue filter accentuates the film’s depressing notes at the beginning of the narrative, and shots are largely all close-ups so the anguish on everyone’s faces is visible. The homes are chosen for their ability to portray the luxurious lifestyle these men lead, and sweeping shots show expensive sports cars at every angle. In short, the film’s visuals do exactly what they’re supposed to do, and for that Wells can’t be faulted. The film wouldn’t have worked with any other style or form of editing, so it’s good that in this respect, Wells hit the mark.
Bobby Walker…obviously getting terminated.
The soundtrack is uplifting – perfect for a story that seeks to restore a bit of faith in spectators that life goes on and losing your career is not everything. There’s not too much else to say, as no tracks stood out, but overall it was a complementary film to the narrative.
The DVD comes with plenty of extras, as you would expect from a film with many big names. There’s audio commentary from Wells, a “Making of The Company Men” segment, the theatrical trailer, some deleted scenes, and – surprise, surprise – an alternate ending.
Yes, you most certainly do get your money’s worth from this DVD. The best part of all, though, is the alternate ending – we all wonder what films would have turned out like if there was a different ending, and Wells has given us exactly that. This set of extras is about as in-depth as a film could possibly get, and the director’s commentary is always a great way to hear a little bit about the vision behind the film.
While The Company Men isn’t a bad film, it most certainly didn’t stand out. Wells played it far too safe, and while playing it safe means you can’t fail, it also means it’s very difficult for people to remember your film. Tommy Lee Jones’ performance was one of the standout moments in the film, but with a clichéd storyline, stereotypical characters, and no real visual elements to make it stand out, The Company Men is a film that you’ll watch and eventually forget.