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COMPANY MEN, THE (director/writer: John Wells; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Robert Frazen; music: Aaron Zigman; cast: Tommy Lee Jones (Gene McClary), Ben Affleck (Bobby Walker), Chris Cooper (Phil Woodward), Maria Bello (Sally Wilcox), Rosemarie DeWitt (Maggie Walker), Kevin Costner(Jack Dolan), Craig T. Nelson (James Salinger), Eamonn Walker (Danny Mills); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: R; producers: John Wells/Claire Rudnick Polstein/Paula Weinstein; the Weinstein Company; 2010)
“A solid drama about the ill effects of downsizing.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

TV director and producer of ER, John Wells, in his directorial debut, enables a talented ensemble cast to give chilling nuanced performances (the strength of the pic). The pic does damage to corporate ethics while questioning the viability of the capitalist system without directly attacking it, in a solid drama about the ill effects of downsizing, corporation executives leading empty materialistic lives, the rat race of throwing over friendships for profit and the hidden nightmare in the American Dream of living the good and greedy life on someone else’s back.

When the New England shipbuilding and logistic giant GTX merges, its oily flinty-eyed president James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) orders his ruthless HR rep, Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello), to fire a large number of staff in the hopes of keeping the stock price high so his company can stall a hostile takeover and give him stock options. Included in the layoffs is the cocky thirtysomething family man sales manager Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), pissed at losing his $160,000 salary job and letting management know. Bobby comes down to earth and has to face the humiliation of his supportive wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and crestfallen son, and feels ashamed that he failed them. Trying to pretend everything is all right, Bobby tries keep a false bravado clinging to his privileged lifestyle (Porsche and golf club membership in an exclusive club) that he no longer can afford. Faced with paying the mortgage for his cozy suburban house and credit card debts and with no job materializing in his field, Bobby’s forced to take a temporary hard-hat carpenter job with his gruff small-time contractor brother-in-law Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner).

The next round of downsizing takes out the higher-ups, the aging company lifer executive, who worked his way up from welder, Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), and company bigwig Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), one of its founders and a man of conscience, who is fired by his college roommate and best friend Salinger. Unable to salvage the company’s soul, Gene is surprisingly surprised by how ruthless his company acts (I couldn’t believe someone with his business savvy would be surprised at all) and is left twisting in the wind (never telling us his parachute package) but still has enough fight in him to start over.

It’s an actor’s pic, that runs with the schematic storyline (told from an insider’s point of view). The actors give their tired men in grey suits some pep and deliver with ease the film’s message of not to blindly trust big corporations. It tells of fired high-paid executives expecting pity from the public for having to now re-define their lives, as some are forced to survive on salaries of half of what they received before the Turk tapped them on their shoulder. There’s nothing new it says about the financial crisis that we didn’t already know and it presents its story as if it were a sobering lecture about the unfairness of a business laying off competent workers because it cares more about pleasing its stockholders than its workers.

To show how far down the fallen have fell, its pointed photography lucidly records the anxiety-ridden atmosphere as some of the layoff survivors start over in a small time business located in a shabby office with tacky lighting (vastly different from the rich slick looking GTX office the pic featured in the opening, with the pretty but meaningless decor). The hope for these gritty survivors is that maybe in due time they can find a way to get their start-up business to grow, but hopefully without the business losing its soul like GTX.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”