Friday, 23 September 2011

"The Company Men". A Review of the 2010 Film Now On A 2011 BLU RAY.



"…You're Gonna Have A Rough Time Out There…"

Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) knots his silk tie, jumps into his silver Porsche Convertible, speeds out of the leafy drive of his seven-figure suburban mansion and heads off into his job as Regional Sales Manager for GTX – an $11 billion dollar ship-building conglomerate based in the plusher part of Boston who employ over 60,000 people nationwide…

In a less conspicuously wealthy part of town Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) – a man who’s been to Vietnam and then worked himself up from a 60-hour week doing dangerous riveting on the propeller shafts of oil-tankers to a distinguished 30-year managerial career – fixes his dapper cufflinks – albeit a little more wearily.

Out by the waterfront in a palatial monolith too gross for mere adjectives, the Executive Vice President of Global Transportation Services (GTX) Gene McClary (played by Tommy Lee Jones) looks down at a machine that polishes his leather shoes to a mirror-like shine. All three then look into their home mirrors with the faintest whiff of insufferable smugness.

Little do any of them know that Black Friday is about to bring a particularly cruel and detached word into their vocabulary – 'downsizing'…

"The Company Men" deals with the American bank collapses of September 2008 and their devastating knock-on effect on US heavy-manufacturing industries and their already constricting workforces. As you can see from the principal actors outlined above - the cast is to die-for – and John Well's Script and Direction gives them real substance to work with. Another weapon in the movie's favour is the cinematography of the legendary ROGER DEAKINS (“The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “True Grit”). Not only is the Blu Ray image immaculate throughout (he can make a car driving down a snowy road look like poetry) – the pristine sheen of home interiors and top floor offices strewn with Degas Paintings and iMacs is both beautiful and menacing – because beneath all that money, veneer and polish is a very real unspoken threat - poverty is only a corporate axe-swing away.

The story begins by putting all three 'company men' in the firing-line – forcing each to reassess themselves and the promises of people they once thought they could trust. Tommy Lee Jones – an actor with as much gravitas as the Lincoln Memorial – does a stunning job of portraying Gene McClary. You can literally 'feel' his treacle-like slide into the abyss. His lifelong friendship with his boss Jim Salinger (a typically excellent Craig T. Nelson) is poisoned beyond repair as corporate greed callously axes 5000 jobs to meet shareholder’s needs – and keep the big boys and their moneyed lifestyle intact (Bobby Walker is the first of these casualties). As the monetary noose tightens – another 5000 job cuts are called for and the blade comes closer to home. In a brilliantly written scene where they’re deciding who goes and who stays - a lawyer tells Gene "…We’re breaking no laws here…" to which Gene replies "…I guess I always assumed we were trying for a higher standard than that…" And is doesn’t help either that Gene is sleeping with Sarah Wilcox (Maria Bello) – an upper-coming executive who does all the firing in a sexy dress with a concerned look…

Chris Cooper too brings the film some badly-needed heart with a brilliant and unnerving portrayal of a man of a certain age losing his job – and by extension what defines him. In a particularly brutal scene - a tough female Career's Officer (Cady Huffman) tells Phil how it really is (her dialogue titles this review) and she doesn’t mince her words "You're pushing sixty and you look like Hell…" She outlines what has to be axed and what has to be massaged in his old fart’s resume. Sat there in a suit that no longer feels right and with his body crouched forward in an already defeated way, Cooper’s look of puppy-dog bewilderment combined with a barely contained rage is so good that it’s palpable. His disintegration later is both sad and painfully believable. He’s a great actor and such an asset to this movie…

But the whole thing pivots on Ben Affleck's character Bobby Walker and the arc of his painful journey. He starts out as an insufferable motormouth earning $120,000 a year plus incentives with a golf-club membership and eating-out expenses of $600 a month. His wife and two kids want for nothing and have every electrical gadget that screams 'we've arrived'. And when he joins the Jobseeker's club he cockily tells Danny (a huge presence in Eamonn Walker) that he'll have a job in a few days – he completely believes it. Three months later – with his car and possessions gone – their home foreclosed on – 100% of his phonecalls not returned and his severance pay running out - he’s beginning to look and sound like a 37-year old loser who can’t support his family. Luckily his wife Maggie (a superlative Rosemary DeWitt) keeps him and their world from falling apart with a practicality that her husband so clearly lacks (they rediscover each other in the process).

Affleck is often accused of being too pretty boy and too lightweight to be taken seriously, but with his two excellent directorial works "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town" and past performances in "Hollywoodland" and "State Of Play" – once again he shows here that he can easily stand up with the big boys. There’s a scene in Jack’s house (a wonderfully held-back performance by Kevin Costner – a working man who is incensed at the mere presence of this upstart he clearly feels deserves his comeuppance) when Bobby is looking around the room at the dinner table. He sighs - he’s anticipating lectures about responsibility and prayers for hope - his eyelids weigh about 2000 tons. The slide of despair has begun – but there’s still that arrogance there. It's a spot-on performance by Affleck for his character at that particular moment. By the time his Bobby gets to huffing sheets of timber about on a construction site for his hated brother-in-law – his dirty-faced blister-handed appreciation of having 'any' job is real and complete. It's impressive stuff…

Niggles – despite the A-list cast, the beautiful presentation of the print, the often exceptional writing and the slick direction, there’s a gnawing feeling that you’re being asked to care about smug pricks with too much money – people you want to hit over the head repeatedly with a cricket bat. And worse - the movie slyly concentrates too much on the ‘young’ jobless type and not the men of 40, 50 and 60 who can be all but destroyed by such a loss. But luckily the script is smarter than all that and despite a rather pat happy-ending - the sheer quality of the cast and the material win out.

"The Company Men" probably isn't going to trouble any Oscar Nominations List or fire up critics into spilling out orgasmic soliloquies - but like a good night in with friends where way too many drinks have been taken – what was said in liquored-up truth the night before will stay with you for days afterwards. Mostly it’ll make you think about 'work' - how it traps/frees us - how it even gives us life itself...

And if "The Company Men" makes us appreciate what we have and value it - then it's a job well done. A good movie really...

Put it high on your rental list.

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