Billing a cast of has been heavyweights whose performance range from wooden to nearly wooden, The Company Men, is a movie that tries really, really hard to be serious in its approach to providing a look at the current state of affairs of the American worker. Unfortunately, the story arc for each of the protagonists is predictable (and smells like an after-school special), as is the not-so-veiled bashing of the corporate trickery used in the race for the almighty dollar.
GTX. The shipping company is going through a rough patch, to which CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) figures consolidating departments and cutting manpower in the short term should pump up the stock price (and his net worth). It affects several thousand people, including executive salesmen Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) and Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), going as high up the tree to knock out the CTO Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones).
The layoffs effect each differently and writer/director John Wells wants terribly for The Company Men to be a hard driving snapshot into their and their loved ones lives.
Affleck is the young, cocky sales guy who thinks he’s got life by the balls and so fittingly he’s slapped in the face hardest (wasn’t hard enough to slap Affleck’s trademark smirk off his face though). He flounders epically but it gives him a chance to re-bond with his wife and son, which I suppose is a good thing, cos you know, he’s neglected them in his pursuit for power and status. Best as I can tell, however, he doesn’t learn a damn thing during his ordeal — he loses his humility and becomes a pompous asshole once the sun starts shining on his ass again (I’m sure his wife and kids are happy about that). So in the end, it’s the viewer who gets slapped in the face since we’re asked to invest in this guy and it turns out a tiger can’t or simply refuses to change its stripes.
Cooper is the old guy who suddenly finds himself unemployable even though he’s got more experience under his belt than most everyone in the industry. He goes through a litany of depressive states culminating in a comical scene where he’s throwing rocks at the GTX building, cursing them for his firing and for his inability to get rehired. “I gave my life to you,” he hollers (or something to that effect). Like I said, there is a lot akin to an after school special here. That being said, Cooper’s character is the most identifiable in the bunch and he does an okay job getting the viewer on his side.
Bucking the trend is Tommy Lee Jones’ character. Although rich well beyond his needs, he is morally outraged at the corporate establishment that granted him such luxury. He comes off a bit like a preacher as he argues for the little man and calls into question why the CEO of a company that is downsizing is making so much money. Yet while he’s crusading like an angel from heaven, he’s carrying on an affair with fellow GTX executive Sally (Maria Bello) in front of his wife and grown son. So much for having morals. What this has to do with anything, I’ve no idea — I guess Wells wanted people to know that when you’re filthy rich you can screw good looking women half your age and rub it in the nose of your wife.
I’m quite sure there is a lesson to be learned somewhere in the bowels of The Company Men — I’m just not sure what it was supposed to be. Maybe the takeaway is: Blue collar workers who build stuff are better than white collar workers who move electronic nonsense back and forth. Or maybe it is quite simply: Don’t get laid off — there is absolutely no hope for you if you do. Both of them are equally sucky . . . just like the movie.