The Company Men (2011)

Written & Directed by John Wells

The financial crisis that hit America and subsequently much of the rest of the globe in the last few years undoubtedly produced some harrowing stories. Many people were affected by the wounded economy, losing their jobs, taking pay cuts, and struggling to support their families. The documentary film Inside Job, which won the Oscar last year, looked at the financial crisis from the perspective of who to blame. The Company Men, a dramatic film from one of the writers of “The West Wing” John Wells, decides instead to tell the story of the people most directly affected by the downsizing of many companies: the workers.

Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is a successful sales manager at GTX, a major shipbuilding company. He has a nice, happy life, as do his co-workers Phil (Chris Cooper), Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) and Sally (Maria Bello). But when he gets laid off due to the struggling stock of the company, Bobby struggles to come to grips with the reality that a comparable job may not be readily available, even if he is qualified. With the help of his supportive wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her brother (Kevin Costner), Bobby soon realizes what is truly important in his life.

The cast of the film is amazing. Ben Affleck, who plays the lead, is perhaps the least remarkable of the bunch, while still portraying the character true to the script. Tommy Lee Jones as Gene, the executive who disagrees with the cuts being made in the company, as well as Rosemarie DeWitt as Bobby’s wife, are the two standouts. They both fully embody the sympathetic individuals that were in stark contrast to the other greedy executives who just wanted to make the shareholders happy and make a quick buck, or a few million bucks, while everybody else suffered. I would love to start seeing DeWitt in more films.

Despite the strong cast, however, the film is hard to connect with on many levels. For one, the protagonist of the film, Bobby, is hard to sympathize with. Yes, he lost his job and is struggling financially, but it is hard to feel sorry for a guy who has to give up his membership at the country club and his Porsche just to make the payments on his giant house. His denial was not something that was heart wrenching. The film surrounded itself with the stories of those that were hugely successful before the financial crisis, and because of that is was foreign to me to watch. What about the little guys who lost their jobs? Sure, it was sad what happened to everybody, but the upper class struggles are much harder to connect with than anything else.

So while the story may be somewhat true, it still felt constructed and dramatized. And the conclusions the film reaches are admirable, proving that despite the greed and denial of a few, the true human spirit is filled with love and determination, with the ability to rise up after the world beats you down. But the conclusion is less effective because of the distance the narrative creates from the viewer. The financial crisis is an important event in recent American history, but this is not the film that will capture that history on the big screen, though it tries its hardest to be.

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