Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Company Men" well-acted and timely but flawed

The Company Men (2010)
104 min., rated R.
Grade: B

In the midst of our country's recent economic recession, movies having been looking at corporate downsizing straight in the face ("Up in the Air" and the doc "Inside Money"). While those films had us sympathize with the regular folks being laid off by company moguls, "The Company Men" has us alongside the top guys. TV-bred John Wells marks this as his feature writing and directing debut (after being behind shows like “ER” and “The West Wing”). 

"The Company Men" closes in on three executives from a Massachusetts-area shipping company dealing with the thousands of employee layoffs by their head GTX Corporations. Affleck plays Bobby Walker, an exec who's the first to take the hit. At first he's not too worried, but finds out tough it is to find a job in a hurting economy. Bobby attends an out placement service but still tries keeping appearances, even as he and his supportive nurse wife, Maggie (the always great Rosemarie DeWitt), are forced to sell the house and his precious Porsche. His brother-in-law, Jack (Kevin Costner), is nice enough to offer him a job at his small construction company. Rounding out the other players is Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a VP at GTX, who thinks he's safe but he's pushing 60 and gets handed the pink slip. Outraged at all the job cuts, company cofounder Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) has his job protected, next to the greedy boss (Craig T. Nelson) and the corporate ax (Maria Bello), but feels the most guilt and tries bringing help to his fired workers. 

"The Company Men" is a relevant and thoughtful film, and has a terrific cast, but it should've been more than just watchable. We should care about these characters and their plight, given the timely subject matter, but it's hard to identify with such well-heeled, obscenely wealthy people. Affleck's Bobby, living above his means with a Porsche and a golf club membership, is an arrogant, overly proud jerk. But Affleck makes his frustration relatable, and eventually he turns around. Cooper, as good as he is, plays too much of an unsubtle cliché. He's a hopeless, short-tempered man who drinks his life away and then throws rocks at the GTX building, and his fate is most inevitable. But Jones' character, while conveying a humane, three-dimensional conscience, has a subplot that comes out of nowhere and seems contradictory. Costner, as the blue-collar Jack with a sturdy job, is good here and rejects the pat sound-bites. 

Roger Deakins lends his do-no-wrong cinematography hand, making sure every frame shines and makes every location, both working-class homes and corporate abundance, look authentic. So while this is just schematic, meat-and-potatoes storytelling, "The Company Men" is still a workmanlike effort from a tyro filmmaker who directs real acting men. 

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