If you’ve been unemployed during the current recession, The Company Men instantly becomes one of the toughest films in a long time to watch. Why? Because it handles the effects of being unemployed in the modern era much more effectively than any film to date, making it tough to watch on an emotional level.
The Company Men follows three men at a global conglomerate dealing with layoffs, et al, in an economic downturn at three points in their lives. Bobby (Ben Affleck) is the young hot shot completely blindsided by the layoff. Phil (Chris Cooper) worked his way up from the factory floor to an executive position, at the end of his career, and finds himself with large bills and nearly too old and experienced to find a new job or start over. Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) is a company founder who finds himself at odds with his best friend (Craig T. Nelson), CEO of the company, and the decision to continually lay off employees to bolster its stock price.
As the film follows all three as they deal with the situations they’ve been dealt with, we see all three have to pick up the pieces of their lives. Bobby takes work with his brother in law (Kevin Costner) as a last resort, going through a series of humiliating interviews to try and find a job back near his old position. Phil finds that for all his years of experience, his age seems to be a detracting factor as his inner demons end up consuming him. Gene walks through his life and finds how empty it is, how he doesn’t fit into the company he helped build anymore because of how he views the world.
And it’s remarkable in how powerful it can be.
John Wells, who wrote and directed the film, has a grasp on the realities of unemployment for many Americans. He mainly finds his voice with Bobby, focusing the bulk of the film on him, and there’s a magic between him and Affleck. Bobby is a cocksure man whose entire image was identified with his job. Losing it despite no fault to be cited, his identity is shattered and he doesn’t know how to handle it. Affleck has this remarkable ability to be completely arrogant about his position and status in life and yet you can’t help but root for him as he tries to rebuild his life. As he goes through his old life and his current one, working as a carpenter while trying to find a job, his struggle to figure out his identity without having it tied to his position of employment becomes one we can understand.
It’s the combination of a wonderfully written character and an actor meant to play him. Affleck spent a good portion of his career playing characters that needed to learn a lesson in life for comedic purposes but now, given a character with some depth in a similar situation, brings out a touching performance. The film may boast of a star-studded cast but this is Affleck’s film; The Company Men ebbs and flows with him.
And that’s the problem with the film. When we veer away from Bobby’s story and venture into Gene and Phil’s worlds the film loses something. Both characters aren’t developed as well as Bobby and it shows; John Wells, who wrote the film as well as directing it, seems to want to make this a three character drama but only puts in enough material for one great character and two supporting ones. One can see where he’s trying to go with this; this is a companion piece to Up in the Air from the other side of the firing line, showing the repercussions from multiple perspectives. The problem is that Gene and Phil are shoe-horned into bigger roles because of the actors playing them, or at least it seem that way, when a film about Bobby’s rise and fall works much more effectively because he’s the best developed of the characters.
The Company Men ends up feeling flawed because it really should be The Company Man; John Wells has a film about a man discovering his identity after seemingly using his career as a substitute for it inside this one waiting to come out. As it stands it levels off as good but not great; on that cusp of greatness but never quite getting there.
Presented in a widescreen format with a Dolby Digital surround, this is a good transfer but not a brilliant one. This isn’t an a/v masterpiece and the transfer is good enough to make it look sharp and sound good but not brilliant.
An Alternate Ending is included but really isn’t a true alternate ending. It’s a shortened version of the one that the film carries, ending on a slightly different note than the film does. It doesn’t fit with the film’s tone and it’s easy to see why the ending kept with the current film stayed.
Deleted Scenes are included but don’t add much back into the film.
There’s an intriguing making of piece entitled Making the Company Men, appropriately enough, as everyone involves discusses the current recession and how they all had to reach out to figure out where to bring the characters from with real life experience.
There’s a Feature Commentary with Writer/Director John Wells.
The Company Men is a solid film with a solid DVD release but nothing that is extraordinary as an extra or as a piece itself.
Anchor Bay presents The Company Men. Written and Directed by John Wells. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Craig T Nelson. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD June 7, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Tommy Lee Jones