A movie review of "The Company Men," a serious, thoughtful, beautifully crafted and often devastating drama that follows three employees (played by Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones) affected by a corporate downsizing.
“My life ended,” says a middle-aged man quietly, “and nobody noticed.”
John Wells’ “The Company Men” is a serious, thoughtful and often devastating drama about something rarely explored in the movies: the world of work as a place where we go to find out who we are, and what happens when somebody defined by his job loses it. Bobby (Ben Affleck), Phil (Chris Cooper) and Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) are three employees at the New England manufacturing conglomerate GTX, at varying levels of seniority and age: Bobby, the youngest, is in sales; Phil in middle management; Gene, co-founder of the 60,000-employee company, is ranked No. 2 at GTX.
The film begins with the company in mild panic; those who represent “redundancies” — including Bobby — are being let go. The parking lot is full of dumbstruck-looking people carrying file boxes; those who remain are nervous about their own positions. Bobby enters the mysterious world of “outplacement,” where his job is to sit in a cubicle and look for a job, occasionally hectored by a bullet-voiced outplacement specialist who speaks in platitudes, secure that her own job is safe. Eventually Phil joins him there, and though the wealthy Gene doesn’t need such help, he’s soon leaving GTX as well.
Wells, assisted by the moodily beautiful cinematography of Roger Deakins, lets the movie gracefully flit between the stories of the three men: Bobby as he struggles with telling his wife the news, and eventually, to his chagrin, takes a job helping his brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) build houses; Phil as he faces being unable to support his family in the way it is used to; Gene as he confronts his own responsibility in what happened to the company, how it changed from a place where people worked with their hands and “knew who they were” to a seemingly soulless corporation.
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Though these men, particularly Gene and Phil, start the movie living in a bubble of comfort, Wells and the fine cast make the characters seem like people we know, facing the questions we face. And “The Company Men” is full of vivid details that ring true: Bobby’s embarrassed discomfort at the construction site (he doesn’t even know he’s supposed to bring his lunch); the generic blues and grays of the office; the silence of waiting rooms; the casually promised jobs that don’t come through; the way everyone, when asked, automatically says “I’m fine,” when they’re not.
Despite some hope at the end, it’s an undeniably sad movie, but a beautifully crafted one — and, rare enough these days, a wise one.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com