Friday, February 11, 2011

The Company Men

"The Worst They Can Do..."
"Looking Out for No. 1"

John Wells cut his teeth on "China Beach," "ER," and "The West Wing" (his company produced, and had the unenviable task of following Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme as its shepherds), and excelled at the TV requirements of the easy irony and the clean, unfussy shot.  He brings that same sensibility to The Company Men, which at least has the stones to risk box-office disaster addressing the financial meltdown.

While banks are failing and institutions too big to fail do so, Boston's GTX corporation is warding off a possible hostile take-over by fluffing their stock; the most expedient way to do that in an uncertain economy is cut overhead and "redundancies," meaning shoes on the floor.  Wall Street looooves a good blood-letting.  Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), a cocky well-to-do sales associate is one of the first to go, getting the pink slip and the complimentary empty boxes on the desk.  He's mad.  He's angry. He's bitter.  Life changes.  The wife goes back to work (after he insists that she doesn't).  The kids worry (though the parents attempt to keep it a secret).  The long process of looking for a job is a full-time life-sucking process, while as time drags on, the cockiness fades, the budget tightens, the possessions fade away and the lying starts.  Pride goeth before the fall.  But, first go the Porsch', the house, the country-club membership, the perks, then goes to the bone—the self-respect...the self-worth.  The things you say you'd never do, you do.

GTX rolls on and over.  The CEO (Craig T. Nelson) continues to prop up the corporation in grand strokes of hubris.  His ship-building division head, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to protect his assets, like division chief Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) and head of HR Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello)—who just happens to be his mistress—but those efforts make him look disloyal to his his boss and friend Nelson.  It is telegraphed early on that they're at risk, too, and Wells doesn't surprise by falling the most likely story path.

Bobby soon ends up working for his wife's brother (Kevin Costner) in construction, just to make what ends he has left meet, but it's too little too late, and he gets lectured on "how things are:" "GTX's President makes 700 times what the average guy on the floor makes; you think he works 700 times as hard?" brother-in-law asks at Thanksgiving dinner.  Pass the cranberries, bro.'  Pretty soon the entire film feels like a lecture on the twin (somewhat negating) virtues of self-reliance and helping others, with the inevitable triumphs and tragedies that the script calls for before the final commercial break—even though this is a theatrical presentation and the commercials come at the beginning. 

It's all Wells and good.  The writer-director is helped immeasurably by Coen Brothers lenser Roger Deakins, and he's got a great cast doing varying degrees of cagey work—Costner, in particular, plays his part completely, unsentimentally, which is unusual for him and refreshing.  But, its all a little too little too late.  As a summing up of the human consequences of down-sizing, it's a noble effort, but its audience—if they can afford to go—already knows all this and may end up feeling like they've been watching a parrot tell them their lives for two hours (Thanks, John, appreciate the sermon—you don't need a sound designer, do you?).*  One wishes that someone would mention that these economic bubbles aren't restricted to this one time, but to the cycles that come from risky, if not downright criminal, actions that take place every twenty years.  That an increasing life in the fast lane runs the risk of losing control of the vehicle.**  That, even if one takes the safe, conservative approach, you can still lose everything if the timing isn't fortuitous.  That life is a crap-shoot, at times, and the guy who does the best may be that crazy guy who doesn't contribute to the economy, but stuffs his mattress with cash.***

But, that's never said.  Maybe it will be in the sequel, The Company Men 2: That Ship has Sailed, which will basically be the same thing twenty years later, when the next crash occurs.  And when one says that, one realizes that the real of message Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is that a sequel needed to be made at all.

The Company Men is a Rental.

* I watched your movie; you did.

** For more on that, see tomorrow's review...

*** I won't even mention that the messenger for all this comes from a tinsel-towned industry known for its waste and excess.  Kudos that everybody on your film got a wage, but at what proportion to the stars and the execs—as long as we're making comparisons? How's that for irony? Heal thyself, Preacher.

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