Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Company Men

"You know what the real tragedy here is Bob? We could have been friends."

The first poster I ever saw for Company Men had a tag line on it that read: "In America, we give our lives to our jobs. It's time to take them back." I have no idea what this statement has to do with the movie Company Men. This is not a movie about realizing your worth outside of work. If anything, it's study on how low losing your job can bring you when you define yourself by what you do. This is a perfect example of the kind of decisions writer and first time feature film Director John Wells makes all over Company Men. When he's faced with a decision between what would make for an honest story and what he thinks will generate mass audience appeal, he consistently goes for mass appeal- to his projects detriment.

Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker. Bobby is high level executive who has the rug pulled out from under him when he is caught up in his corporations first round of unapologetic downsizing. Affleck does well in the role of the well off executive turned job seeker, as does Rosemarie DeWitt as his stay at home wife. Together their relationship serves as an expository tool for all the many paradigm shifts and uncomfortable adjustments that come with the sole bread winner losing their job. Their situation is also used to show the all to common condition of many American households; The Walker's may drive their Porsche from their huge house to their Country Club, but even the slightest hiccup in income exposes the fact that none of their possessions are owned outright. We watch them struggle not only to make ends meet but to keep their relationship healthy as egos are bruised again and again. Despite the at times ham-fisted direction, Affleck and DeWitt's chemistry can burn quite hot, more so when their forced to antagonize each other than during their conspicuous scenes of tender exchange.

If this story was the only one this movie followed, many of my complaints would be left on the cutting room floor among the pruned scenes. However, Bobby Walker's story line is only one of three that receive the most (read:only) screen time. This set off a red flag as I watched the other two stories that make up Company Men, each also being about high level executives being laid off from the same company. If this was a movie about Bobby Walker and his families struggle than I wouldn't question, but with these other two stories on board I'm forced to wonder why at least one can't take us through the struggles of an employee of this company who doesn't own a car that's worth as much as the average starter house. But this minor complaint is nothing next to the stories themselves. The first gives us Tommy Lee Jones as Gene, who serves as little more than a slow draw deus ex machina, while Chris Cooper gives a great but wasted performance as Phil Woodward- an on rails character for whom story resolution is bombastically telegraphed long before it ever comes to fruition.

Sprinkled throughout the film and used to no effectiveness are done-to-death cinema tropes hand picked to coax smiles and tears from the audience in equal measure. The most frustrating of these is the money grubbing, soulless CEO and the little independent business owner with a heart of gold. It seems that this whole movie is divided along the insinuation that all big business is the Evil Empire, while independent and small business is the Rebel Alliance. Anyone who wears a suit to work is evil and underhanded, while hard working blue collar Americans will never leave a man behind. Watching Company Men it soon becomes clear that everyone who's not a Walker is a static character with little to no use (or depth) outside of the Walker's. And just when you can't take anymore the entire thing ends with a resolution that flies in the face of reality but feels like warm blankets, and a shot of a well chosen but glaring metaphor for a struggling America.

This is a movie that I am very sad to have to say I didn't like. It feels more like a missed opportunity than anything else. Boiled down it struck (and strikes) me as a chance to tell a very poignant story at a time when people are most willing to hear it. But writing and direction that tries far to hard to stir emotions gets in the way. I expected much more from a script penned by a man with The West Wing on his writing resume but Aaron Sorkin, Wells is not. The questionable script is unable to overcome it's blemishes in the hands of an inexperienced Director. At it's heart is a strong and emotional impinging story that ends up drowning in a thousand bad calls. It's truly a shame; I was so ready to love Company Men.

Reel Deal Recommends:
Boiler Room: Ben briefly but bringing his best.
Rachel Getting Married: A good movie, a great performance from DeWitt.
Married Life: A smart film with Cooper shining out of his element.

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