Review: The Company Men - Sundance Film Festival
A film about the economy that really clicks...
Tommy Lee Jones and Ben Affleck - "The Company Men" (2010) - VVS Films
The Company Men begins with a montage of the main characters getting their battle armor on, only here it's suits, ties, and cuff links. These are the warriors of the workplace. Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is an overpaid middle manager who prides himself on his Porsche, his bigger-than-average home, and his country club membership. In an opening scene we see him playing golf with his friends without a care in the world. He even advises them to buy stock in GTX, the very company he's working for. Too bad for Bobby that when he returns from his golf game he's been given notice that the company is downsizing, and he's fired.
GTX -- Global Transportation Systems -- is cutting costs, trying to boost their stock price, and no one is safe. Craig T. Nelson plays the CEO who's nice on the outside and ruthless on the inside. Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) is his right-hand man; they built the company up from one measly shipyard. Seems ironic that they're now shutting down the shipyards that made them a business in the first place. That's the reality of our "new global economy": companies must adapt or die. At one point it's mentioned that the sole purpose of GTX is to work for its stockholders, which just reminds us how easy it is to lose track of what made the success possible in the first place.
Gene is a kindhearted but realistic man. When he realizes that the company has been firing people from his own divisions without telling him, he goes to bat for them. Instead of getting jobs back, Gene becomes mired in the bureaucratic mess that is GTX. Gene plays both sides perfectly. He's flying on private jets, driving in limos, but trying his hardest to keep his people. He likes what money and power has brought him, but he hasn't forgotten how he got there.
The Company Men can be, at times, a little heavy-handed in its portrayal of today's economic situation with its constant mentioning of CEO pay. But the movie has a subtle way of guiding us through what it must be like to lose your job after you've been making six figures for the last 15 to 30 years. Suddenly, characters like Bobby are faced with dire situations. He doesn't want to let go of the life of luxury, but when it comes to making the mortgage payment and making the country club payment the choice should be easy.
Guided by pitch-perfect performances from Jones and Chris Cooper, along with being one of Ben Affleck's finer roles, The Company Men is a sobering journey into how unsafe all of our jobs really are. It doesn't tell a particularly happy story, but that's the "nature of business," as they say.
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