Cineworld Glasgow, 15.03.11

The economic downturn and it’s affect on corporate America are explored in this film from John Wells.

Let me begin by saying The Company Men is a good film.  Written and directed by John Wells, more known for his TV work like ER and The West Wing, he brings similar intelligence and well-constructed drama to this rare sojourn onto the big screen.  An impressive male cast all deliver, especially the ever reliable Kevin Costner, who is used sparingly but effectively.  Women are marginalised, with only Maria Bello, as a woman holding her own in the male corporate world, and Rosemarie DeWitt, as a pragmatic, working, mother of two, in any sizeable role, and there could be a complaint about the portrayal of so many wives content to live happily on their husbands’ money.  But there is one unavoidable, central problem with the whole premise that threatens to overshadow all this.

The story follows Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) as he is made redundant from a corporate firm as it downsizes, and his subsequent attempts to find a new job in tough times.  In a second round of redundancies lifelong employee Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) and company founder Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) similarly face unemployment, but as older men, must accept that their working life may be over.  The trouble with this premise is that Wells has chosen to focus not on the millions of blue collar workers for whom redundancy is a devastating ordeal, but the elite, high earning, well off corporates, for whom redundancy means, at the worst, giving up their Porshe, moving out of their mansion size houses or struggling to pay for their antique furniture.  Walker in particular is a deeply unsympathetic character, refusing to accept his brother-in-law’s offer of a manual labour work initially, reluctant to be practical and sell his Porsche and castigating his wife for her insistance that he gives up his luxury golf membership.  Similarly, McClary is redundant, but with shares worth millions, which continue to accumulate money while he can retire perfectly comfortably, yet he appears depressed at this situation.  Woodward provides the most touching and believable story as his modest income and loss of purpose lead him to take drastic action.

Walker’s story arc is further complicated by its conclusion.  Having finally accepted work from Jack, his home life gradually improves, he becomes closer to his children and wife, finding time to spend with them that he didn’t have in his corporate job.  However, once McClary offers him a job for an annual $80,000 (only half his previous wage, again, are we supposed to have sympathy and believe this is a paltry wage that he will struggle to live on?), he quickly leaves Jack, his kids and wife and returns to the corporate world to help start up the new company, which one suspects will involve a lot of time not being spent with the family anymore.  And, as with McClary and Woodward’s previous fate, there is nothing to suggest that in future years, even if this new company is a success, when economic hard times return, the corporate world will have little sentiment in dispensing with the likes of Walker once again.

So, a good drama, but I am left with a nagging sense that perhaps The Company Men suffers by ignoring the people who really have suffered from the economic down turn, which the corporate world, and high earners and management in particular, have to take some of the blame for creating in the first place.

Film Rating: 3 out of 5.

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