The Company Men

The Company Men stars Ben Affleck as a successful businessman who comes face-to-face with America’s downsizing epidemic when he loses his job and is forced to take a construction gig. What happens when the American dream turns into a nightmare? What do you tell your wife, kids, friends, former colleagues when you are collecting unemployment? The film begins by creating sympathetic characters and showing them all in the glory of their success. It’s hard to feel sorry for a rich white high-powered executive. But the magic of the story is breaking down each character one by one and watching their eventual spiral into humility. Given the current economic climate, this film will hit very close to home for many people. Curiously, the producer / director Wells says he starting writing it years ago before the US economic failures. Timing helps him. So do performances from some of film’s leading male actors; Costner, Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, and Craig T. Nelson all give their best. It appears that Affleck delivers in any film set in Boston, and this one is no exception. This touching story delves into the concept of male identity being almost purely defined by one’s career. It’s a sad fact that is illustrated wonderfully when you see those identities removed from the men in this story. You see the impact this identity has on your social rank, the perception of your children and spouse, and on how you feel about yourself. But it’s hard to find anyone that cannot relate to some facet of this story. The theme of this movie is one many of us who have faced unemployment can relate to. Especially as a man trying to provide for your family. It is like a death for you (some say a blessing) when you are forced to accept a new humility and question everything you have worked for. “I need to look successful,” says Affleck’s character. How true. When you are unemployed, desperate, perhaps depressed, you are caught between a balancing act of asking for favors with hat in hand, and trying to project confidence and success to potential employers when you feel nothing like that inside. This film put a lump in my throat inasmuch as it deals honestly with issues of identity, hope, despair, and family. The sad reality is that the new American economy will see most families go through what the Walkers do at some point in their lives. Are you ready? The story of The Company Men so closely duplicated my situation ten years ago that it was uncanny. My husband who was a corporate VP was laid off unexpectedly (probably age discrimination combined with a high salary). Suddenly his six-figure salary would be gone in six months, as well as our benefits. The firm paid for three months of outsource training and provided him with an office from where to pursue new employment. But a new job never materialized, and my husband retired at age 55. If that is the kind of story you are expecting from The Company Men, you will not be disappointed. Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper are all caught in this corporate web of living high and feeling proud — only to be dropped like a sack of potatoes. This was the scenario ten years ago for many, and it has only gotten worse. The interesting thing is that the economic recession has not only impacted white collar workers. Affleck’s character’s brother-in-law (Kevin Costner), who is a construction contractor, is also hurt — with less work and less money. There is one line in the movie that hit home for me. The corporation’s owner asks his now-unemployed right-hand man how he is doing. And the reply is – “Not good. My best friend just fired me!” If you have been through this horror, or know someone who has, you will bond with these characters and feel their pain firsthand! And this is not necessarily the delivery of a political message — it is an everyday reality for millions of hardworking people. It was certainly depressing, but with a light ending. As usual with a Hollywood film, it all gets wrapped up with a pretty bow at the end so we can feel good about being treated so bad. Everything works out in the end for the protagonist, also as usual in Hollywood. This is a film that tries to show its solidarity with people whose lives were destroyed in the downturn, many of whom still haven’t fully recovered. It throws some pulled punches at those in the corporate boardrooms who were responsible. However, it is boardroom executives who finance Hollywood movies. So to keep them happily writing checks the film gives us a sympathetic former executive who rescues everybody in the end. Just like in real life. Yeah, right. And here is the biggest joke, the economy isn’t coming back in the same form as before and all those old jobs are lost, so the happy clappy BS at the end of the film about starting again is just nonsense. You really think you can compete with workers in China and India at $40.00 a day labor rates compared to ours? Thank you to all the politicians who signed off on the WTO, GATT and NAFTA deals to make this possible and sell the American dream down the river. This film would have been more appropriately titled “When Bad Things Happen to Rich White Men.” What I loved was how clearly the filmmakers showed the staggering wealth of the slimy corporate kingpins and their shocking disrespect for the people who had worked so hard to make them so. And I loved the clear-eyed presentation of what life is like after getting fired from a big corporation after serving it faithfully for many years. It is a must-see, especially for middle/upper middle-class couples to watch together and discuss what their real goals are as a family. It did what I want in a movie – it kept my attention all the way through with no dead spots and reasonable accuracy. Great film. It has a lot of great themes and involves class, corruption, power and practically anything worthy of academic and social debate. Also stars Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Costner. Drama 2010 R 1hr 44m.

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