“In America we give our lives to our jobs. It’s time to take them back.”
It was only a matter of time before the current economic situation made its way into our theaters and finally our homes with a movie like The Company Men. Certainly the economy has influenced many films in the last five years. There have even been other movies to explore many of the current issues. But it’s this film that makes those issues, particularly corporate raiding and downsizing, its sole reason for being.
Bobby Walker (Affleck) is a power salesman for a shipping company. He’s making a lot of money, and life is good. That is, until the CEO James Salinger (Nelson) decides that he needs to get the stock price higher. He begins wave after wave of layoffs. His long-time friend and right hand man Gene McClary (Jones) isn’t at all happy with the company getting gutted. He feels for the employees and friends who will suffer because of the cut-throat downsizing.
That’s really the only story that The Company Men boasts. The film plays out more as a series of vignettes as we see how the downsizing affects some of the men at the company. The focus is on Affleck’s Bobby, but it’s really hard to feel all that bad for Bobby as the film intends. His first round of sacrifices include having to cancel a Christmas ski trip and cutting out club membership fees. They live in a million-dollar house and spend $600 a month just on eating out and dry cleaning. To make it harder for us to feel sorry for him, Bobby is offered a job by his brother-in-law Jack (Costner). He not only turns him down but remarks that he really doesn’t see himself hanging drywall. When he finally does have to swallow his pride and take the job, he learns some lessons in humility, but somehow it never makes him a more likable character in the end. The Tommy Lee Jones character is much more compelling. He displays guilt for the lifestyle he’s become accustomed to and has genuine feelings for his coworkers. He’s not crying poverty because he can’t have a $500 lunch.
There are some powerful performances here that pretty much carry the film. It looks like director John Wells has found a way to bring out the best in Kevin Costner when he’s not playing a G-man. Give him just a little to do, and he begins to shine. Here Costner gives one of the more believable performances of his career, in short measures. Jones is his usual excellent self. There’s a rather surprising performance by Craig T. Nelson in a rather sinister role. Again, he doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but he builds a great character in the little time he has.
John Wells is best known for delivering some compelling television drama from ER to Third Watch and working on The West Wing. Here he lets his politics get in the way, which is a fault he has exhibited before. The timeline of the story takes us well into 2010, but the news reports in the background continue to talk about George W. Bush and his policies. Like the current president, he appears to find the former president a convenient scapegoat for the economic troubles, ignoring some rather obvious facts to the contrary. It was Bush who warned us about the housing crisis as early as 2001 and folks like Barney Frank who insisted that he was wrong. We all know how that turned out. Wells is a good director with a particularly keen eye for characters. It shows here in spite of the blatant political misdirection.
The film is intended as a look at a particular issue and time and is less about delivering a straight story. It’s quite effective at times even if it does deal with characters that are not quite as sympathetic as you would expect. Give Wells credit for not taking the easy way out here. The film could have easily played on a guilt factor with unending images of abject poverty. It’s an honest approach on that score and doesn’t make us feel like we’ve done something wrong as we watch.
The Company Men is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. The picture changes from a drab New England winter exterior to an often-glossy boardroom environment. The camera does tend to focus on the characters, and the close-ups offer nice detail in this high-definition image presentation. Black levels are average without providing a ton of shadow definition. Fortunately, most of this film is presented in the cold light of day. Colors tend toward the natural without a ton of color correction.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is pretty basic, and appropriately so. The story is all in the dialog, and that takes place pretty much front and center. Any dynamic range you’ll find is in the subtle musical score or song cues. They do stand out without dominating the sound field. It’s a nice little intimate sound presentation.
Alternate Ending: (12:52) This is pretty much a lot of the same scenes. There are subtle differences that change the outcome only slightly.
Making Of: (14:23) This is the typical collection of sound bites praising everything and everyone.
The film is basically a direct-to-video effort. It did have a modest 200-theatre release, pulling in only about $4 million. Still, this never feels like an art house or festival film. It has the earmarks of a good budget and a respectable cast all the way around. Wells manages to deal with a subject still heavy on all of our minds and still make it entertaining. Wells appears to understand that it’s “not just about figures on a balance sheet”.