Essentially a horror film for the white-collar workers over 50, The Company Men follows three suits (Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper) trying to come to terms with widespread downsizing at their company. Relatable (especially during these tough economic times), yes, but only for those who can relate to people who make well over six figures a year, live in beautiful mansions, fly around in private jets and belong to the most prestigious of country club golf courses. The film does touch on the depressing blue-collar lifestyle as well (so if you're making under a hundred grand a year, there's your "in"), and by the time we're handed an overall message that it's not what you do, but who you do it for, The Company Men breezes past its finish line with relative ease before leaving its audience to call home to say I love you.
It's not really important to know who held which job, just know that there's a chain of command at the billion-dollar global shipping company GTX and Bobby Walker (Affleck) is at the bottom of a group of managers who's first to be let go. Cocky, arrogant and convinced he'll land a new job within hours, Walker slowly heads down a grim path that eventually downgrades his upper middle class lifestyle significantly when it becomes impossible for him to land another gig. But with guidance from his loving wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) and a ball-busting brother-in-law (Kevin Costner in a scene-stealing performance), Walker rebounds enough to straighten out his priorities and become the film's most redeeming character.
As far as everyone else goes ... well, there's always stock options ... right?
Above Walker at the company is Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a veteran who started out building ships way back in the day before climbing the corporate ladder all the way to executive status. Because of his position, Woodward manages to dodge the first round of layoffs, but becomes increasingly more paranoid as the company starts to fall apart -- turning to his pal Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), a senior vice president at GTX, for comfort, guidance and any sort of empty promises that his job will be safe. McClary, on the other hand, is more than well off with his giant mansion and private jet access, but his journey – which includes watching his friends and colleagues lose their jobs, while others, like the company's CEO (Craig T. Nelson), continue to rake in upwards of $22 million a year -- is more about self-discovery and reconnecting with the kind of hunger one has when they start from square one.
The ensemble cast full of heavyweights doing what they do best is really what drives this film and makes it worth your time because, let's face it, we've lived with and in this economy for awhile now, and we really don't need to watch fictional characters deal with the after-effects of downsizing since most of us have already been there, done that. But as the popularity of similar-themed films like Up in the Air has proved, moviegoers seem to be finding some sort of strange, therapeutic comfort in these all-too-real storylines that hit dangerously close to home. You might not be making $160 grand like Affleck's Bobby Walker, but you can probably relate to the kind of struggle that comes with not being to afford next month's mortgage payment.
Veteran TV writer-director-producer John Wells makes his feature directional debut here, and he does a solid enough job painting this seriously bleak film with enough heart and humor to keep you "in it" through the end credit scroll. Is there anything new to discover here? No. Will you find it hard to relate to the poor six-figure suits who have to sell their Porsche's in order to get by? Yes. But the familiar cast and quick script make it so this flick just barely slips by without a pink slip
See also: Sundance Primer: The Company Men