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The Company Men

For them, business is anything but usual

Very rarely does a film so nail the zeitgeist as to qualify as a cultural touchstone. “The Company Men” comes very close. Thirty years from now, when our grandchildren ask what it was like to struggle and survive in the great economic downturn of the aughts, they can watch this movie and come away with a real feel for the period. In that regard John Wells’ feature directing debut is reminiscent of landmarks like the post World War II drama “The Best Years of Our Lives.” The protagonists here are not laboring stiffs but rather the privileged few who, until early in the film, work in the executive suites of GTX, a one-time shipbuilding concern that has grown to be a multinational conglomerate with fingers in consumer goods, health insurance and more. Bobby (Ben Affleck) is a regional sales manager pulling down $160,000 a year. He has a big house, a nice wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), a couple of kids, a country club membership and the smugness of a man who has arrived. Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) is Bobby’s division head, an old capitalist warrior who was present for GTX’s creation and still clings to the antiquated notion that a company should actually physically create something. Phil (Chris Cooper) is a former welder who has ridden into management on Gene’s coattails. The three are victims of a wave of cost-cutting by the company’s founder (Craig T. Nelson), who argues that it’s all about pleasing stockholders and making GTX attractive to potential buyers. How they deal with joblessness is the meat of “The Company Men.” Phil, a poster boy for the Peter Principle, falls apart. Gene, whose GTX stock holdings make him a multimillionaire, schemes to create a new company that will go back to the basics that built America. Bobby, the main focus of the film, follows a story arc that slowly breaks down this confident — nay, cocky — individual until he’s grateful to get a gig hammering drywall for the rehab business run by his blue-collar brother-in-law (Kevin Costner). Very well acted, “The Company Men” is ruthless in its dissection of our economic malaise and in depicting the soul-sucking terrors of unemployment. But at the same time the film is cautiously optimistic, suggesting that the elements and attitudes that made this country great are still essential to the national character. They’re just waiting to be tapped. Wells, whose best work has been in television (he has produced, written and directed for such series as “ER” and “The West Wing”), is a storyteller rather than a stylist, and his straightforward approach puts the characters and their dilemmas front and center. Yet there’s a lot going on around the film’s edges, particularly in the physical spaces where people live and work. Cut off from their livelihoods, these three men are forced to acknowledge (silently, but it’s there) how much they have been defined by what they possess. Most live in well-appointed environments that mix safe style with sterility. Only Bobby, who still has children in the house, regularly rubs elbows with life-affirming messiness. The film isn’t perfect. With the exception of DeWitt’s supportive wife (a working-class woman who pragmatically deals with her husband’s new circumstances), the women here are heavies. Phil’s and Gene’s wives are, respectively, an aging alcoholic and a chilly doyen obsessed with finding the right table for the parlor. Maria Bello plays GTX’s human resources head, whose duties mostly involve swallowing hard and handing out pink slips. Whatever its shortcomings, though, “The Company Men” succeeds in delivering to our movie screens a dose of reality seasoned with hope. That’s a potent combination. Courtesy, Robert Butler, The Kansas City Star Official Trailer
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Directed by: 
John Wells
Running Time: 
Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson
Screenplay by: 
John Wells

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