Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Company Men (2010)

     Maybe big name stars shouldn't even try to make movies about financial desperation and hardship.  Almost as tone deaf as Larry Crowne, John Wells presents a story full of so much nothing that one has to wonder why any of the top-tier cast – none of whom are in need of work – signed on to The Company Men (2010).  The relationships are underdeveloped in the extreme, and Wells' cannot even manage to offer a sense of criticism when it comes to the lack of modern corporate citizenship, seeming to choose to present both sides of the coin – responsible and honest corporate citizenship and unflinching corporate greed and ego – as having merit.
     Ben Affleck takes up screen time as Robert/Bob/Bobby (but never Rob) Walker, a sales rep or regional sales director (?) who loses his $160K/year job.  He doesn't want people to know about his fate and never seems to have anything approaching an emotion until the final fifteen minutes of the film.  Did Walker deserve to be fired?  Maybe; he is let go well before most of the rest of the staff that is forced into exodus in the ever expanding downsizing of GTX.  He doesn't seem to have any kind of skills, social or otherwise, that would mark him as a worthwhile employee.  He doesn't really know his children and has to have his wife steer him through everything while he is without employment.  What is remarkably odd about this is that said wife's early solution to having no income is to take on a couple of shifts a week as a nurse, when it should be immediately clear to both of them that this is not enough to do anything.
     Chris Cooper likewise takes up screen time as a meek sales rep who ascended to his position through the ranks, coming off the factory floor.  The character is supposed to have been a man of great character and fearlessness, but Cooper oddly plays him as weak and needy.  Cooper captures that rather well, but it doesn't make any sense in the story, and makes the character's arc much less rewarding.
     Craig T. Nelson gets to give voice to policies he seems to embrace in real life, primarily that companies need not have any loyalties to the employees so long as the shareholders are satisfied (the stock value increases).  Nelson is good in his limited time, but his character is so poorly conceived that there is no reason to believe that he is the man who built GTX into an empire through shrewd maneuvering and machinations.  What is worst, Wells is so non-committal in dealing with Nelson's character (James Salinger) that it is unclear as to whether what he is doing is morally wrong or the new normal (and thus perfectly acceptable).
     The sole redeeming character is Tommy Lee Jones' Gene McClary.  McClary gets to be conflicted about nearly everything in his life, personal and corporate.  Jones gets to be gruff, tender, aloof, and repentant.  It is through McClary that the downsized find some source of rescue – never mind that he has to negotiate terms that are much less favorable than what the employees had before or they would remain unemployed.
     Supporting actors Kevin Costner (who is given nearly nothing to do other than overplay a type of working class hero) and Eamonn Walker deserve better stories for their characters.  Indeed, Costner's gruff contractor (Jack Dolan) and earnest Danny (Walker) could have anchored a much more honest movie about coming to terms with economic hardship and how a sense of humanity can help one manage it with much less distress.  Both seem to have a sense of what it means to work, which is really missing from the rest of the film.
     I can see why this did not see major release.  It just isn't much of a movie.  Wells tries to cover up his lack of focus by engaging many characters and lightly investing in their stories but ends up giving the audience too little for the time invested in simply viewing the final product.

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