The Company Men Dir. John Wells

[The Weinstein Company; 2010]

Styles: drama
Others: Up in the Air

Is it possible for Hollywood to produce a picture relating to the common man anymore? Could they ever? What is the common man, exactly? In a film about corporate downsizing, where once-secure families are forced to make drastic cuts to their comfortable lives, wouldn’t one of said cutbacks be paying to see a Hollywood movie about corporate downsizing?

These are all questions that mulled around inside my skull while watching The Company Men, another in a long line of Hollywood getting topical, ultimately weak attempts to strike a chord with their quickly diminishing audience. Written and directed by John Wells, best known for his work on TV shows I’ve never seen (ER, The West Wing, Third Watch), the film follows the lives of three high-level cogs in the corporate wheel of a Massachusetts company: Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), the cocky young family man; Phil Woodword (Chris Cooper), the workhorse who invested his life in the company; and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), the erstwhile leader who sees his ideals wash away like trash into the dirty water of the Charles River.

From the opening moments, where the viewer is thrown into the depressing big business milieu, the film alternates between two tones: condescension and naivety. Often, the two work hand in hand, as in the character of Bobby, the most perplexing of the group. Young and comfortable in his upper-upper-middle class surroundings (sports car, etc.), his realization that some people work hard for their money, as in carrying wood and walking up flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator, is handled with aw-shucks subtlety and implicit disrespect. The audience is not happy when the character moves toward the inevitable happy ending, because he has been a twit for 90 minutes. Anyone who ever had to, or still does, work a shitty job, who had to bust their ass to support themselves and/or their family, will be out of this film emotionally within the first act.

The film is not saved, but becomes nearly watchable due to a few decent performances from actors who seem to be able to squeeze water from a rock. Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper turn up stone-faced and grizzled, worn away by years of abuse at home and work. They are the true tragic figures of the story, older men locked into the constraints of the worlds they built. There is no escape for them.

There are many other things to rail against in The Company Men, but why bother? The marketing campaign should read, “from the people who brought you Up in the Air,” because though both films don’t share talent, they both seem to excel in the smug, patronizing tone that results in self-congratulation and gives Hollywood a bad name.

Do you hear that? That’s me, wincing in horror when this “poignant, timely” drama begins to rack up awards.

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