The Company Men (The Weinstein Company, R)

Bobby’s arc is the film’s arc, though he’s not the only one who winds up going through a dispiriting round of layoffs, which in a lot of ways is exactly the point.

 
 
 
 
 
It’s not uncommon for good movies positioned in midst of the end-of-the-year awards season orgy to get lost in the shuffle. There are, after all, a limited number of slots for nominations, and generally more than enough films deserving of recognition. Now that we have our nominations, one confirmed movie that got lost was John Wells’ directorial debut (Wells is an old hand in TV Land, though, having worked on such shows as The West Wing and ER), The Company Men. Perhaps it got overlooked because its distributor, The Weinstein Company, is focusing its energies on The King’s Speech? Or maybe because it didn’t connect with enough people, plain and simple?
 
The latter answer is the one that suits me, though The Company Men is in possession of merit that I can easily see, despite not getting into the movie all that much. The film follows a handful of guys who work with one another at a downsizing company called GTX: we have Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck, making a strong return to form in film in 2010), a cocky young employee who frankly deserves to lose his job; there’s Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), the good boss who fights for his employees who are facing being laid off; and Gene’s reliable old friend and co-worker Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), who’s been with GTX for most of his life and knows basically nothing else of the world (much the way a prisoner on death row forgets what life outside of prison is like). Maria Bello turns up as Sally Wilcox, the pro-lay-offs higher-up to counterbalance McClary. Her stance gets a little lopsided with the support of McClary’s partner in founding the company, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), who we don’t see much of but feels like more of a negative presence than Wilcox really does. Of this group of GTX employees we get the most back story from Walker, whose wife, Maggie (Rachel Getting Married’s great Rosemarie DeWitt), we meet, as well as his construction worker brother-in-law Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner). Bobby’s arc is the film’s arc, though he’s not the only one who winds up going through a dispiriting round of layoffs, which in a lot of ways is exactly the point.
 
The reason The Company Men doesn’t entirely register with me is that I have never lived the lives these men have; I’ve never worked in an office, I’ve never had a high-salary job, and I’ve never lost a high-salary job. It goes without saying that all too many people have shared these experiences, though, and it is for these people that the film is made. That isn’t to say that it is inaccessible if you haven’t faced the hardships that The Company Men depicts; quite the opposite. It might help you to understand and empathize with the plight of others, but for the film to really move you, you need to be more entrenched in the world it depicts. So maybe if you don’t love The Company Men, you should count yourself lucky. | Pete Timmermann

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