AFI FEST 2010 Review: THE COMPANY MEN

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
November 11th, 2010

Rating: 3/5

Writer: John Wells
Director: John Wells
Cast: Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Craig T. Nelson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kevin Costner
Studio: The Weinstein Company

The economic crisis that hit our country made many peoples' biggest fear a reality: the loss of their job. The idea of getting fired, the ultimate feeling of rejection, is a fear that can keep people in jobs they hate, under the thumbs of bosses they cannot stand, or even doing something they have lost all interest in. For many Americans, we equate our jobs with our life – what we do for a living defines who we are as people. Without it, we are left feeling empty and worthless.

THE COMPANY MEN takes an unflinching look at both sides of the coin when it comes to the impact of corporate downsizing in America. John Wells' directorial debut focuses not only on those facing sudden unemployment, but also those left doing the work of those let go, those making these difficult decisions, and those who remain seemingly unaffected by it all.

The film follows three men ranging in age and points in their careers. Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is just coming up and experiencing his first taste of success with no desire to slip backwards (or at least keep the image that he has not). Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) is slightly older, past the age of being a serious new hire candidate, but not in a position to simply retire. Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) is the veteran of the trio with a bit more wiggle room to allow him to rest on his laurels after the news, but a man who has worked his entire life and in doing so, lost any semblance of a personal life to fall back on.

Almost more than the shock of losing his job, Bobby feels betrayed by his boss (and mentor) Gene for letting this happen. Looking around Gene’s expansive office filled with expensive furniture and collectibles, you may think he would not even notice, but Gene is wracked with guilt and honestly feels responsible for each job lost. Gene clearly cares about the company and the people who work for him; he is not just a “fat cat” looking out for himself. Unfortunately, Gene’s boss (and best friend) James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) is that person, and Gene finds himself, box in hand, cast out not long after Bobby.

THE COMPANY MEN is an honest look at the fallout of losing one’s job and the steps needed to come out on the other end of things. Desperate for work, Bobby ends up accepting a job working for his wife’s brother, Jack (Kevin Costner), helping out with construction on a house. The clash between white collar Bobby and blue collar Jack are evident from the start, but despite their differences, they are just two men trying to make a living. Gene points out later that those in corporations no longer make things we can actually see, touch, or admire. We work in offices surrounded by paper and numbers, making it difficult to feel a tangible accomplishment at the end of the day.

Bobby’s wife, Maggie (Rosemary DeWitt), is admirable as the calm and steadfast rock in the tumultuous waters that become her and Bobby’s life. She is the rational one, wasting no time in reassessing their situation and making plans to get them through this speed bump. Despite the fact that Bobby has created a comfortable life for their family, Maggie is clearly not the trophy wife whose worth and self-value is wrapped up in the material things they have amassed. They are a family, they have each other, and they will be okay. Maggie represents hope in an otherwise barren landscape of disenchanted men in suits shuffling from one florescent lit office building to the next.

Although we should not live our lives in fear, it is scary how you can be on top of the world one minute and at the end of the unemployment line in the next. The film hits home because it is real, it has happened, and there is no guarantee it will not happen again. The thing to gain (and remember) is a job is just a job. It is not what defines us. It is the people we share our lives with that really matter. The idea of the American dream has always centered around having things – the perfect house, the best cars, the nicest clothes, but if you are working too much to appreciate these things, what is the point? Maggie hits the nail on the head saying that before Bobby lost his job, he was never around, and now, he is. Yes – they were struggling, but in the face of it all, they actually seemed happier. Once you face your greatest fear, and overcome it, that accomplishment may end up having more value than the coveted six figure salary or bonus ever could.

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