Bobby Walker (Affleck), a successful salesman at a major shipyard corporation, is one of hundreds who have lost their jobs overnight. But he’s in denial, refusing to move to a smaller house or get rid of the expensive golf club and his luxurious (and tiny) European car. But you should see his eyes when he found out his son got rid of his Xbox to help the family. How touching.
The problem with The Company Men is exactly that: a potential great idea reduced to a soap opera format so predictable it almost reminded me of Los ricos también lloran (The Rich Also Cry), a Mexican telenovela of the late ’70s. OK, it’s not that bad. But you get the idea.
We all know the effects downsizing has had on the common man, but with actors like these, exploring the effects head-cutting has on the guys who think downsizing is an inevitable part of “freedom” (that is, market freedom and all the inhuman things you have to do to stay “competitive”) is an ideal opportunity for a complex, rich, intelligent screenplay. Instead, director John Wells settled for a conventional story line with zero surprises: when a top executive is banging a supervisor, you know she’ll give him his walking papers any time; when a laid-off character prematurely celebrates a good interview, you know he’s not getting the job; when an older exec with no prospects gets axed, you know you don’t want to see him anywhere near a garage.
But Wells, who won five Emmys as executive producer of The West Wing and ER, is so great with actors that he even makes Kevin Costner look good (as Affleck’s redneck brother-in-law whose tough love temporarily helps him get out of the hole). The acting is the only reason you should sit through this. Forget about the movie, and look at these guys’ faces (plus an excellent Rosemarie DeWitt as Walker’s wife). Affleck is perfectly cast as the successful guy who just can’t believe what’s happening to him. Tommy Lee Jones (as Gene McClary) is at his best as the only guy who seems to have a conscience. And the always real Chris Cooper (as Phil Woodward) makes facing his former employers with an AK-47 seem like a somewhat sensible thing to do (but it’s not, children, it’s not).
If you like acting, this one’s for you. Otherwise, go rent Michael Moore’s The Big One and see what downsizing is really all about — in case you haven’t already figured it out.
The Company Men
Writ. and dir. By John Wells; feat. Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner.