With the pedigree of the stars and craftsmen working on The Company Men, and with a timely subject matter- the downsizing of America- you’d expect this film to be as “juicy” and “terrifically engrossing” as Owen Gleiberman’s quote on the DVD box claim it be. Let’s take a look at who was involved with The Company Men: Academy Award winners Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones; acclaimed veteran actors Rosemarie Dewitt, Craig T. Nelson and Maria Bello; visionary cinematographer, Roger Deakins (someone give this guy the Academy Award already); and the Emmy award winning television mogul, John Wells, who wrote and directed the film. Holy shit, this movie should’ve been the bomb!
Affleck stars as Bobby Walker, a successful businessman living in the big house with the kick ass car and the monthly membership to the posh golf club. Within minutes of the opening of the film, he’s fired from his job, a victim of the economic fiasco most of us have been suffering through. Instead of somehow making Bobby a sympathetic character that we all root for, Wells has written a real jackass who doesn’t understand that his throne as a master of the universe has been tossed on the junk heap along with the rest of the other unfortunate souls who find themselves scrambling to pay their bills and feed their children. Luckily, Bobby has a great wife, Maggie (Dewitt), who tries to be supportive even though their savings is getting smaller and smaller. They try to make ends meet, but gradually, the car gets sold, the house gets sold, and Bobby must grovel to take a carpentry job with his brother-in-law (a very effective Kevin Costner). There is nothing inherently wrong with Bobby’s story, as he eventually learns from the error of his ways and becomes a better man. However, Bobby isn’t the only character in this film.
Jones plays Gene, the corporate vice president (and Bobby’s friend) whose soul is being torn asunder by the way men and women are being treated by the company he helped build from the ground. With each firing, Gene seems to die a little. He valiantly tries to save as many of his people as possible, but Gene’s power becomes more and more limited. Sounds like a pretty decent guy, right? Well, not so much. See, for as great as Gene may appear in the office, the guy is a schmuck at home. He treats his wife with a cool distance and cheats on her with Maria Bello’s character (she plays a role similar to George Clooney’s in the far superior Up in the Air). I ask, why, Mr. Wells, did you have to make the one character who’s supposed to represent some kind of ethics, a cheating jerk? Okay, I understand the need to have characters (particularly those in an indie movie) live in the gray areas, but I just never respected Gene enough and when he has a triumphant ending, I said to myself, “Great, all the assholes in the world get to succeed while the working man continues to get screwed.”
Finally there is Chris Cooper as Phil, a corporate weasel who has a family and expenses he can’t maintain once he gets the inevitable axe. Again, we’re supposed to feel sorry for Phil, even though he’s a tool. Meanwhile, the only character who seems to have any redeeming qualities is Costner’s Jack. As Maggie’s older brother, he’s quick to offer Bobby a job, even though he’ll have to eat the cost of hiring someone else on to his jobs. Unfortunately, Jack isn’t in the film that much. Wells should have known better, especially after all of his experience on ensemble series like E.R. and Third Watch, that he needed another point of view besides that of the rich men who lost their high paying jobs. What about the blue collar men and women who also lost their jobs? How does the downsizing of the factories being closed effect them? I wish that we’d had seen one character from a different social class, but tied to the same dilemma, just so we could see how the recession is changing their lives, too. That missed opportunity, along with the episodic, TV nature of Well’s script is what makes The Company Men such a disappointment. At this stage in Wells’ career, we expect more.
The DVD has some nice bonus features, considering that the film was very small and kind of got thrown out on to the DVD market without a lot of fanfare. The audio commentary and the behind the scenes featurette are excellent. The alternate ending is interesting because it shows a more ambiguous ending for Bobby, rather than the Hollywood ending he was given in the final cut.