Company Men, The (Review)

COMPANY MEN, THE
(1/21/11; Drama)
Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Rosemarie DeWitt, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson
SCR/DIR: John Wells
MPAA: R for language and brief nudity.
1 hour 53 mins
BOX: $4,384,065

It’s surprising to learn this somber exploration of 21st century corporate downsizing was the first film written and directed by Wells (ER) because it’s so confident, elegantly framed and perfectly timed. Alas, the script is a little on-the-nose and none-too-subtle.

But there is nothing subtle about having your career, livelihood and pride unceremoniously ripped out from underneath you and Wells’ ambitious ensemble drama, however preachy, captures that upheaval from every aspect: from those who have to make the decisions to those affected directly and their families.

It’s sobering stuff, like a long lumbering fog, and director Wells avoids the overtly dramatic reveals that would disrupt such a slow and creeping death. What saves the movie from its obviousness is the impressive list of good actors doing sturdy work: Jones and Nelson are the old coots that built the GTX Corporation from the ground up. Nelson cares about the bottom line, Jones cares about his employees; and sees his loyalty tested early on when a substantial part of his team is gutted.

Among the ousted is hotshot sales manager Bobby (Affleck), who enjoys his million dollar home and flashy lifestyle. And even though he strains likability, Affleck takes us through the stages of grief as he first tries to maintain his lifestyle and finally realizes that everything has changed forever. Cooper can play a hangdog sad-sack in his sleep but here he represents every poor 60-year-old who has ever faced the ageism of snooty upstarts half his age. His scenes with Affleck are particularly rewarding if you saw Affleck’s The Town in which they play (criminal) father-and-son.

A twist involving Jones’ relationship with corporate shark Bello is never explained but deepens a complicated union between the two, the most interesting relationship in the movie. But the entire flick pivots on the burly shoulders of Costner, outstanding as Affleck’s blue collar brother-in-law who insults him by offering a construction job, but then creates an opportunity for Affleck to discover something long missing from his life: the integrity of hard-earned cash.

We’ve seen it before, the wise sage that will again teach our cocky hero the value of swinging a hammer. And yes, there have been many who wondered why Costner would take such a small role. But consider this: the movie is about a bunch of guys forced to embrace a harsh new reality; and there’s former heartthrob Costner daring to look like a middle-aged guy well past his prime.

It’s a startling and effective piece of casting that in itself reminds us about how quickly a hotshot career can cool. (The Weinstein Company)

— DENNIS WILLIS

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Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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