BY MARK N. TURNER
There are movies that are made that are noted as being timely. These movies take on the day-to--day stories that many of those viewing them are going through and turn them into stories with compelling characters, events that viewers can relate to and that touch the heart all at the same time. THE COMPANY MEN is just such a movie.
Ben Affleck is Bobby Walker, a sales director for a global transportation company, GTX. He walks into a meeting one morning after a great golf game only to discover that not only has part of his staff been let go but his position is no longer in existence as well. The company, in an attempt to show itself as more profitable, has let go a number of people as well as two departments.
Given severance pay and the assistance of a job placement service, Bobby hopes to find a new job within days. The reality of the matter is that this is not the only company going through downsizing and he is not the only person with the same qualifications. While his wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt in a fantastic performance) supports him in his search, she has a more realistic viewpoint. As Bobby continues to search for that elusive dream job, Maggie is the one that makes the tough decisions and keeps the family together.
But that’s only one story going here. Another involves Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a long time employee in his fifties who began with the company on the manufacturing end when they built cargo ships. Phil starts fearful that he will be let go next. With a daughter in college and a luxury home to care for, Phil’s fears begin running his life.
The third story, thus making it company “men”, revolves around Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), another long time employee and Bobby’s supervisor. It’s Gene’s departments that have been eliminated and he feels for the workers under him. Having started the company with long time friend James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), Gene thinks the company should be more than just figures. It should have an ethical responsibility to its employees as well. Needless to say the company disagrees.
The movie weaves back and forth with these three businessmen, showing that it’s not just those on a factory floor that are damaged when a company changes its focus. As with most things the trickle down effect touches all, starting at the top. It doesn’t just affect the company itself or the lives of those it employs but the lives of their families as well.
The paths that these three characters take from the start of the film to its conclusion touch the viewer on an emotional level more so than most films I’ve seen of late. You worry about each of them but not the same way. Each one touches you on a different level and the story telling done here is remarkable in the way that it moves you. Be it the young man early in his career or the elderly statesman past retirement age, you feel a concern for each and watch wondering just what they will do next.
All of the actors here do a remarkable job. You feel the pain of Affleck, a man who feels he’s become a loser in every respect of the word as he finds difficulty taking care of his family. Cooper’s despair as he does all he can to hold onto his job can bring tears to your eyes. And Jones’ depiction of a man who thought his company would be different than the rest only to find himself on the outside of the decision making process is one that offers a resilience to all that happens to these three. Kevin Costner as a hard working construction owner and Affleck’s brother in law who sees the worth of work in a hands on basis only does a great job as well whether he’s needling Bobby for not being a working man or giving him a job to help him get by. But the stand out performance to me was DeWitt. You truly believe her character and sympathize with her being there to handle the bills and to help her husband find his way.
This movie does not set out to be a feel good movie and yet by the end it becomes just that. Not in a neat and tidy here’s a big rescue sort of way but in the idea that just when things look their worst a glimmer of hope might just happen. It shows a world in which company men, often portrayed as unfeeling money grubbing millionaires, can also be touched by the necessities of the business world. They are no different than the dock worker or secretary; they have problems and the possibility of losing their jobs too. And in the end it takes people uniting together to find a solution, to endure all the pain and suffering, to get back on track. This movie may not have been tops at the box office, but I found it to be one of the best films I’ve seen all year.
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