on February 19, 2011
This film seems to be getting mixed reviews at best. It wasn't even released nationwide, or at least not at a theater near me, and very little promotion was given to it. I think that's a shame because it's an enjoyable film that actually explores not just the recent economy and downsizing in Corporate America but the North American situation (obsession with property, possessions and passing pleasures rather than true happiness). That said, I understand that films involving the recent economy haven't done well and I can see why many people wouldn't be eager to get out only to sit in a theater and watch what can be seen as a very depressing story that has a lot of truth to it.
Outside of that fact I still say this is a good film if not entirely great. Ben Affleck is well cast and likable as a man who has it all until his company is hurt by the economy and he finds himself included in the list of recent layoffs, the last thing he expected given his position at the company. He is eager to find a new job and believes he'll have no problem given his credentials but he soon finds the only positions he can attain are those that he considers beneath him. Soon his termination package runs out and he and his wife (excellently played by Rosemarie Dewitt) have to face some realities about their nice house and many possessions including a beautiful sports car. Dewitt and Affleck do a great job of playing a couple under a lot of stress who still clearly love each other.
The film isn't as depressing as it sounds based on that synopsis, from there Ben Affleck's character slowly realizes that when all else fades family remains constant and his parents and brother in law (Kevin Costner) help him make it through to the other side.
While this goes on Tommy Lee Jones plays a higher business executive at the same company who is very upset with the way the company is being run. When he is eventually let go despite suggestions that could help the company he finds himself dissatisfied with his life and looking to find new meaning. Craig T. Nelson plays the head of the company who causes more issues by taking jobs out of the industrial end of the company to keep investors happy. Chris Cooper does an excellent job playing a man in the same position as Affleck only with much less fortunate results when he doesn't have the same support group (truly the most tragic aspect of the film).
Economy films are a lot like films about the Iraq war, not many want to hear anymore about these issues with the media already bombarding us. However, I would say this isn't so much an economy film as it is a film about a very specific aspect of the current human condition that just happens to use the recent economy issues as a starting point (much like how The Hurt Locker wasn't specifically about Iraq).
To me the film wasn't as depressing as others are painting it to be because the message wasn't about how bad things can get, it was about how good we can make things. Everything is a choice, if we stop becoming obsessed with things we have no control over in hopes of stability, if we stop building things up and acting as if they can never fall down, if we accept that nothing is permanent other than the happiness we give ourselves then we might move past all this and be in a better place, a place that can't be taken away from us.
The ending keeps it from being a truly great film, leaving things wrapped up almost too neatly too suddenly despite attempting to be openended and leaving Affleck's character with a mountain to climb. Still, if you liked last year's Up In The Air you'll enjoy this and if your interested in how business's wind up in trouble or if you like films that show the strength of family then this may be for you, give it a try. I hope this film finds a larger audience on Blu-Ray and DVD, I will certainly be adding it to my collection for repeat viewings.
* I hope this release has a director's commentary.
on February 26, 2011
This is a film that oozes with realism and timeliness. The GTX corporation, headed by an overpaid, callous CEO (Craig T. Nelson)--who cares only about the stockholders, a new corporate headquarters, and his salary and stock options--cuts divisions and lays off thousands of workers--some of whom have been with him and the firm for decades. It's not that they aren't hardworking and dedicated, it's just "business."
One of the men who is laid off is in his thirties (Ben Affleck); the other is twenty years older (Chris Cooper). Another (Tommy Lee Jones) roomed in college with the CEO and helped him build the company from the ground up, concentrating on shipbuilding in the Boston area. All three men live lavishly, with fancy houses, furnishings, and cars.
Affleck is great as the proud, bitter, and then humbled white-collar executive, who has to sell his million-dollar home (in the depressed housing market) and Porsche, and then move in with his parents and work for his brother-in-law (played nicely by Kevin Costner) constructing someone else's mega-house. Cooper is also good--downtrodden and desperate, forced to dye his hair, and grovel at job interviews and with associates. And Jones is wonderful--a man with a conscience in the business world, who cares about the people who work at GTX. He also starts to reevaluate his life, both professionally and personally, in middle age.
The film--written and directed by John Wells--hits home. Most of us know people like the ones we see in The Company Men. They can be vain, pushy, and full of themselves; but when things don't go their way, they can be depressed and helpless. Yes, people need to make a living, but they also need to think about what's really important--family, friends, and self-fulfillment. This is a film that makes you think about these things.
"The Company Men" is a sober telling of life within a modern company. Men come to be defined by their jobs and when the job is taken away from them, they are lost. Their world as they understand it simply collapses.
At a high level, "The Company Men" covers the lives of several executives of the ship building division of GTX Corporation, an American conglomerate. Profitability and growth seems to be eluding the division and the only response of management is downsizing and, when this fails, more downsizing. Each man is thrown into a whirlpool. Their lives of debt and over-consumption come to a screeching halt. If there is one message from this film it is that too many people assume that things won't change. Too little attention is paid to saving for a rainy day. Consumption is king.
There are excellent performances by Tommy Lee Jones and Ben Affleck. Both end up being "let go" and both struggle with the consequences. However, eventually, reality must be faced. This is not an easy row to hoe. In the case of Ben Affleck's character, his life style is forced to undergo big changes. His house is sold, his family moves back to living with his parents, his wife gets a part time job and he takes a job of manual labour from his brother in law.
Without spoiling the plot, there is a somewhat happier ending. However, in the meantime, the film gives an excellent portrayal of so much of modern corporate life. It's a dog eat dog world out there. Just remember that change can be forced on anyone.
Mild "spoilers" contained herein:
A decent, well-paced but largely predictable movie showing what a few "downsized" employees at a large corporation go through when the rug is yanked from under them. Unless you were living in a convent for the last 3 years, none of what you see here will be particularly surprising. The makers of the film dutifully present the greedy heartless CEO (Craig T. Nelson), the hot-shot MBA (Ben Affleck), the blue collar heart-of-gold guy (Kevin Costner), the overlooked company lifer (Chris Cooper), and so on. All the actors do a great job, including the always-good Tommy Lee Jones as the disillusioned philandering millionaire, but there's not really a tremendous amount of meat on the bones of this movie. The actors are attempting to give life to thinly-drawn caricatures distilled from the headlines.
In the end, I don't really care too much about anybody, partly because their troubles are not my own (I've got it worse than everyone shown in the movie), but largely because so many character development questions are left unanswered:
Chris Cooper's character is 60: why is losing his job so devastating? How long did he plan to work? Wouldn't he be close to retirement with some money saved up?
Ben Affleck's character is devastated to lose his Porsche and his country club membership. Why? In his parents' house again after selling his house, he tells his wife "I couldn't wait to get out of here. I was gonna be a CEO." That's it? That's all you got? His parents seem like nice folks. Where's the motivation? Why should we care about this corporate wanker?
It's hard not to be sympathetic with any character Tommy Lee Jones plays, but he stands idly by for most of the movie as the company he helped build is taken away from him, and as people he cares about gets fired, and as he himself gets fired, as he has an affair with the H.R. department chick, walks out on his wife, he sits on a giant pile of money and doesn't help anyone... what happens at the end doesn't redeem him, especially considering the speech he gives to Affleck about loving hotel suites and expensive meals.
Craig T. Nelson's CEO is one-dimensional... it could have been interesting to get under his skin, but the movie didn't have time for him.
And really: do they HAVE to show the passage of time through the cliched use of holidays? Halloween, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas trees, working on New Year's Eve, Easter egg hunts are all shown.... the only thing missing is the last scene happening on 4th of July.
And so on.
Rosemarie Dewitt gives a good performance as Affleck's wife, and Maria Bello does the best she can with the H.R. character.
Comparisons are being made to "Up in the Air", however, "The Company Men" is more relentlessly bleak and conventional, and has far less snappy dialogue. Affleck's excellent kiss-off to one potential employer, and a couple of exchanges at the employment agency are the only thing bordering on funny.
As a distillation of the business headlines from 2008-2010 and how it plays out in a few lives, this is a very good film, and probably all it aspired to be. As a compelling, moving work of cinema... not so much. 3-1/2 stars.
on February 20, 2011
"It is not the economy"...the boss says, "it's the stockholders, the investors; they want a return on their investment," by holding shares in the company, which means the company uses their share money for business and thereby the investors want a return on their investment plus a nice dividend...that's a check coming in the mail without disturbing the principal, hopefully!
The movie told us that this company was doing fine, price per share was $97 a share; certain shareholders in the company holding a million shares or so were making millions with every $.50 cent rise in the stock.
But...the CEO, the owner of the company had a salary of $22 million in the year some of his "indigenous" friends and company family members were laid-off and their lives ruined and turned upside down to give the investors a return on their investment.
THERE IS SO MUCH MORE IN THIS MOVIE THAT MOST PEOPLE ARE LIKELY TO MISS. (I WANT TO CALL IT A "FILM", AS IN, DOCUMENTARY.) I went to see this movie with more than one person and everyone admits that there was something seeming low-budget about it but they left the theater with something they know they will never forget.
Ben Affleck...seemed so real it was unreal. KEVIN COSTNER: it was good to see you, Kevin...and you were right on Kevin, which I don't think all the time; I'm not a fan; but in this movie you were masculine, real and even sexy. So, stay in front of the camera Kevin if you're going to do this kind of real work.
SOME YEARS BACK...maybe in the 70s, last century, the Japanese developed a company-employee model and made Toyota a household name. The Japanese model basically said: (a) If people love working for you they will love coming to work for you, and (b) if the employees are brought in as a part of your company they will care about the company; they will have lifelong customers and generational repetitive customers and you will have less enemies of the company and your company will be cared about and become a part of the national landscape. That was then, back in the day when SEARS seemed like home and a member of everybody's family.
TODAY THE CORPORATE CULTURE IS DIFFERENT and American business is suffering. Today's model is: Work For Us and we could downsize you next week or in 35 years, two years before your retirement and you'll be lucky if some 40-year-old grads from Ivy League U.S.A. hasn't bet the entire retirement fund money on an offshore oil well. (AND IF YOU THINK THIS SATIRE CAN'T BE TRUE BECAUSE RETIREMENT FUND MONIES ARE SET ASIDE IN SEPARATE ACCOUNTS...then I say unto you....YOU are still dreaming and have not awaken to reality.)
I WILL BUY THIS MOVIE ON DVD and have dinner parties that are bound to get rowdy.
on June 13, 2011
I think this story delivers an important message in a way that is easily relatable for many people. It's a modern-day take on the age old "rags-to-riches-to-rags" theme. The main characters, who have worked their way up the corporate ladder to a life of luxury that others only dream of, are suddenly faced with the cold, hard reality that it can all be taken away in no time at all, no matter who you are. What a crushing blow to learn that years of time and dedication are no longer of value thanks to the almighty to the bottom line. Greed is a powerful force that thrives on gaining more with no regard for the destruction left in its wake.
One of the most significant events during my childhood was that of my father losing his job in 1970 and the impact it had on our lives. It was a major blow to his self esteem. He worked for the same mega-corporation that both of my grandfathers had retired from after decades of hard work. He had planned to do the same. He was part of a generation that grew up believing in the benefits of dedicating yourself to a good company and therefore being respected and rewarded for your effort.
He was blindsided by a massive downsizing layoff and was distraught at suddenly being unable to support our single-income family. Jobs were scarce because so many other men were in the same situation, and ultimately my parents were forced to sell our newly built home - the dream house they had worked and saved for over the years. They bought a mobile home and we lived on the corner of a relatives property. He found a job at a small manufacturing plant where he was miserable but nonetheless busted his back for 30+ years ... and then was ultimately screwed out of his promised retirement package when the company later went under.
I think it's because of that I realized early in my career that business is a game involving players who are driven by their own particular motivation. Some people are team players whose goal is working for the greater good of everyone involved, while others have no true concern for anyone but themselves and will step on everyone who gets in their way. You've got to play the game to succeed, but I believe it's the honest, empathetic and hard-working people who are the winners no matter how many dollar signs are on their paycheck.
THE COMPANY MEN (2010, but not released until 2011, 105 minutes, do not confuse with the other comedy Company Man [HD], see my review or with Company Man [HD]) is probably one of the most important movies of this era. In the near future I wager it will be considered a downright unequalled classic. I cannot say I feel that way about it now ... but it has a vital symbolism that I would not have wanted to miss. What attracts my curiosity is why this film seems to have been buried and ignored.
Corporate monster GTX, based in Gloucester, Massachusetts and responsible for the rape of New England, is downsizing suddenly and savagely. The depression we keep pretending is a recession is hitting hard and fast. Ben Affleck, who does not deserve the top billing or any special attention yet receives it, portrays the young sales manager who is fired. In a way, we see this mostly through his eyes as he descends the levels of the Hell of Job Loss.
Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson portray the corporate bigwigs of GTX, though Nelson is the soulless owner while Jones is just his 'partner' going back to the company's beginnings. Jones worries like an old lady about the employees being fired while Nelson laughs. Soon Jones is fired, along with Chris Cooper, who symbolizes the too-old-to-hire, out-of-work corporate 'wise man'. It is only Cooper's character who meets his appointment with death by his own hand, and I can't say I liked that but I knew someone had to commit suicide in this.
In a way, this film treats with a world I know not. It is not familiar to me, nor is it understandable. I know such men as "corporate monsters" or the less offensive "bigwigs", "stiff suits" and my own term "executroids". Tommy Lee Jones' character admits who he is: "Hell I like $500 lunches and $5,000 hotel suites!", and this after he's been fired and is a bit hopeless.
Guess that is the real 'enterprising spirit'. That is the world I will never, ever understand. My father always always said, "We're all the same, and everyone's just trying to make a living." So I tried to look at it like that - and I have my father to thank for my being able to appreciate this film in full. Before thinking of Pop's wise observation, all I could see was the leering, nasty faces of Craig T. Nelson on one side and Ben Affleck on the other.
There is lots to see and hear in this film. While I felt a kind of sad disgust with it at first, I warmed to its importance. This film speaks loudly to anyone, everyone, who has ever struggled on the way up, lost a job or is floundering in a jobless economy. A special appearance by Kevin Costner as Affleck's brother-in-law symbolizes hard-working labor. As owner of a mid-level construction company, he takes pity on Affleck and hires him. What I really liked here is Costner's job is to build modest homes.
The shots are crabbed and claustrophobic yet lovely and meaningful: the multi-million dollar houses representing the mortgage crisis ('McMansions'), with FOR-SALE signs in the front yards. The shots of certain desolate parts of Gloucester, including the dead, boatless harbor. This has meaning since Jones' character began as a shipwright as did Cooper.
In fact the character with the least meaning (for me, anyhow) is Affleck; he represents the resentful, young hard worker who fought his way out of a working-class neighborhood he despised, and really believed he was better than everyone else. Sad.
As my father might have asked, who is responsible for what? Who cheated the worker out of his work, who slammed all the doors then laughed all the way to the bank? I say Affleck more than Nelson represents that evil glibness, that corporate zombie mentality, that has cost this nation everything. In fact, Nelson seems to be Affleck-in-the-future, only Affleck learns his lessons at the construction site where he works for his brother-in-law.
In other words, he has his glibness torn from him savagely. I kept saying, "Good." There was no way I would ever feel sorry for Affleck's character.
Get this and watch it at least twice. Aside from possibly catching all the stupidly mumbled dialogue which you'll surely miss on the 1st viewing, you'll catch a great deal more. Aside from Affleck's unending lack of acting talent, you will discover that every line spoken here is a lesson. This film - without the "f-bombs" and the "mo-fo bombs" which can be edited out in a cinch - should be shown in schools.
Craig T. Nelson to a fired Tommy Lee Jones: "My shares are worth $600 million. How much are yours worth?"
And I thought, THAT is a profound and challenging question to America. Watch this great film (in spite of Affleck, whom I always jokingly call "Ben Affect" as in "lack of affect"). Find out just what Jones' "shares" are worth. From this, America just might relearn who and what it really is.
In the movie "Boiler Room," Ben Affleck plays a "senior" stockbroker who informs the newbies that, "I'm 27. I'm a dinosaur. Luckily, I'm very good at what I do." A decade later, he plays a thirty something who gets fired from his high powered salesman job and faces a bleak economy, along with colleagues Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper. Downsizing these days means moving in with your parents, having to dye your hair and quit smoking, and - the ultimate indignity, having your spouse start working more hours in order to make ends meet. Luckily, for Affleck, he gets a job doing manual labor with his brother-in-law, played by Kevin Costner, who passes along a few Life Lessons, along with instructions on how to put up drywall. Other movie characters aren't as fortunate.
In eighties' cinema, greed was good, or at least acceptable. In the nineties, there were a spate of movies about yuppies getting blindsided by trauma and having to reevaluate their priorities. In "Regarding Henry," Harrison Ford plays a lawyer who becomes a better person by getting shot in the head and suffering brain damage. He realizes that his colleagues are amoral sleazebags and takes his daughter out of boarding school. It may have been good that Henry's daughter didn't want to attend in the first place because with Henry's newfound ethics, he probably wouldn't have a job much longer. But the film didn't explore that.
Nowadays, even movie characters can't afford spontaneous job quitting. This is a grim movie, with few answers to the current economic crisis. The cast does a decent job, but you want to watch a film about downsizing liberally laced with black humor, try the remake of "Fun With Dick and Jane" with Jim Carrey and Alec Baldwin.
on June 25, 2011
There are movies that are made that are noted as being timely. These movies take on the day to day stories that many of those viewing them are going through and turn them into stories with compelling characters, events that viewers can relate to and that touch the heart all at the same time. THE COMPANY MEN is just such a movie.
Ben Affleck is Bobby Walker, a sales director for a global transportation company, GTX. He walks into a meeting one morning after a great golf game only to discover that not only has part of his staff been let go but his position is no longer in existence as well. The company, in an attempt to show itself as more profitable, has let go a number of people as well as two departments.
Given severance pay and the assistance of a job placement service, Bobby hopes to find a new job within days. The reality of the matter is that this is not the only company going through downsizing and he is not the only person with the same qualifications. While his wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt in a fantastic performance) supports him in his search, she has a more realistic viewpoint. As Bobby continues to search for that elusive dream job, Maggie is the one that makes the tough decisions and keeps the family together.
But that's only one story going here. Another involves Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a long time employee in his fifties who began with the company on the manufacturing end when they built cargo ships. Phil starts fearful that he will be let go next. With a daughter in college and a luxury home to care for, Phil's fears begin running his life.
The third story, thus making it company "men", revolves around Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), another long time employee and Bobby's supervisor. It's Gene's departments that have been eliminated and he feels for the workers under him. Having started the company with long time friend James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), Gene thinks the company should be more than just figures. It should have an ethical responsibility to its employees as well. Needless to say the company disagrees.
The movie weaves back and forth with these three businessmen, showing that it's not just those on a factory floor that are damaged when a company changes its focus. As with most things the trickle down effect touches all, starting at the top. It doesn't just affect the company itself or the lives of those it employs but the lives of their families as well.
The paths that these three characters take from the start of the film to its conclusion touch the viewer on an emotional level more so than most films I've seen of late. You worry about each of them but not the same way. Each one touches you on a different level and the story telling done here is remarkable in the way that it moves you. Be it the young man early in his career or the elderly statesman past retirement age, you feel a concern for each and watch wondering just what they will do next.
All of the actors here do a remarkable job. You feel the pain of Affleck, a man who feels he's become a loser in every respect of the word as he finds difficulty taking care of his family. Cooper's despair as he does all he can to hold onto his job can bring tears to your eyes. And Jones' depiction of a man who thought his company would be different than the rest only to find himself on the outside of the decision making process is one that offers a resilience to all that happens to these three. Kevin Costner as a hard working construction owner and Affleck's brother in law who sees the worth of work in a hands on basis only does a great job as well whether he's needling Bobby for not being a working man or giving him a job to help him get by. But the stand out performance to me was DeWitt. You truly believe her character and sympathize with her being there to handle the bills and to help her husband find his way.
This movie does not set out to be a feel good movie and yet by the end it becomes just that. Not in a neat and tidy here's a big rescue sort of way but in the idea that just when things look their worst a glimmer of hope might just happen. It shows a world in which company men, often portrayed as unfeeling money grubbing millionaires, can also be touched by the necessities of the business world. They are no different than the dock worker or secretary; they have problems and the possibility of losing their jobs too. And in the end it takes people uniting together to find a solution, to endure all the pain and suffering, to get back on track. This movie may not have been tops at the box office, but I found it to be one of the best films I've seen all year.
on September 4, 2015
This movie is painfully close to the real world of corporate America and how it operates with sacrificing employees to meet stock price. Characters are well developed; didn't even realize it was Kevin Costner he played his role so well.