Movies

Ten Critical Thoughts About… The Company Men

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Highly specific observations on Ben Affleck's recession dramedy.

Ben Affleck in The Company Men

John Wells' directorial debut, The Company Men, begins with Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) getting fired from international conglomerate GTX — and he's not the only one. The movie follows a cross-section of unemployed Boston men who struggle to make sense of their lives (and the mortgage payments).

1. Watching this movie is like reading a newspaper.
"American heavy manufacturing is dead," Tommy Lee Jones, playing a white-collar executive, tells Ben Affleck, who's playing a white-collar manager. Thanks, Tommy Lee Jones! It reminded me of that time I turned to my editor and said, "The publishing industry is moving online." Oh, wait, that never happened because nobody talks like that.

2. But it's sweet.
The movie, bless its soul, means well. "This is happening!" Bobby's wife yells at him, trying to knock some sense into that thick Irish skull of his. Of course, she's also yelling at us — Company Men won't rest until we acknowledge how shitty things are for the American worker.

3. And things are shitty.
A great movie this is not, but it's at least on point. After Bobby gets squeezed out of the company, the movie goes through its bullet points in a workmanlike manner. He loses his sense of dignity and purpose, his family loses their house, his children sacrifice their luxuries. It sucks out there, and it's good to have a movie address the issue head-on.

4. Ben Affleck is not willing to relocate.
Halfway through the movie, Bobby actually does get offered a job — in Arkansas. And like the actor playing him, Bobby plans on never leaving Boston. He declines by telling the interviewer, "I'm from the area." We know, Ben. We know.

5. Kevin Costner!
Is in the movie! This doesn't happen often. Seriously, check IMDb — the man knows how to drive up demand. Costner!

6. Ah, the healing power of manual labor.
So all Bobby needed to turn his luck around was to carry heavy things from one place to another, as he does with his blue-collar Costner-in-law. Who would've thought that something so simple — yet so bold! — would be the answer? Certainly not everybody in the theater.

7. Whose story is this anyway?
I know, the movie's not called The Company Man, but there are still too many white dudes running around to keep track of. There's the working-class Costner, who makes things, with his hands; the middle-class Affleck; the aged, rich-ish Chris Cooper and his existential crisis; the flat-out wealthy Tommy Lee Jones and his ethical conflicts; and, for good measure, Craig T. Nelson, the CEO with way too much money and not enough heart. Dickens used thousands of pages, and David Simon had five seasons — but you, John Wells, have only two hours.

8. I'll tell you whose story it should've been.
Chris Cooper's Phil Woodward, one of GTX's many casualties, has by far the most intriguing tale. A Vietnam War veteran, he worked for the company for some forty years — he started in the factory! — and now he's, like, sixty and competing against fresh-faced Ivy Leaguers with MBAs. He's told to dye his hair and not put the word "Vietnam" on his résumé, because nobody wants to hire a dinosaur. Well I think the dinosaur should have his own movie.

9. An hour later, and Americans still aren't making things.
Near the end of the movie, Tommy Lee Jones gives us another progress report on the state of our nation's economy. "We used to build things for honest wages, and now we're fucking pussies with iPhones," or something. So things, it turns out, haven't changed much since the movie started.

10. Rent Up in the Air.
That George Clooney movie recruited real people who'd been laid off from their jobs to play the people getting laid off from their jobs. They sounded angry and exasperated and hurt because they actually were all those things. The Company Men never really hits home in that way (one of Bobby's biggest battles is paying his country-club dues), though I'll give it points for trying.