Review: 'The Company Men' a Solid Film for the Great Recession
“The Company Men” tells the story of three businessmen who lose their jobs during an economic recession. As the story begins, the three men begin their day tying their neckties and planning another normal day in the office. However, all of their lives change dramatically when the company that employs them starts laying people off.
The three company men are Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), and Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), who all work for a corporation called GTX. Bobby is the first one to lose his job at the company. He walks into his office confident and enthusiastic and walks out embarrassed and unemployed. He leaves his office with a severance package, a box of belongings, and hope that he will find another job soon.
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Gene is eventually laid off as well, despite the fact that he helped found GTX and used to be close friends with the company executive who is making all of the cuts. That executive is James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), a man who is focused on the company's bottom line. Gene had previously noted his displeasure with James's earlier cutbacks, so it's no surprise that he's let go. Like Gene, Phil loses his position in the second round of cuts. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the youth or the energy that Bobby has or the financial safety net that Gene has built up. Phil is overwhelmed by the bills that keep stacking up and knows that few companies want to hire a man of his age.
After the layoffs, the story focuses on these three men as they struggle to survive and it excels when it shows the tough decisions that they each have to make. Bobby is forced to make sacrifices at home and must eventually take a job with his sarcastic brother-in-law, Jack (Kevin Costner). Gene must re-evaluate some of his choices in life and Phil must start begging his friends for the opportunity to earn a decent paycheck.
All three main actors in the story settle into their roles comfortably. Tommy Lee Jones is given the meatiest role in the story. Gene has earned a lot of money from GTX over the years, which enables him to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. Although he gripes about the cutbacks, he understands that GTX has paid him handsomely over the years.
Gene isn't a victim and he isn't a villain either. Unfortunately, many of the other characters are presented as one or the other. James, with his calls for layoffs, is treated as the story’s villain. He’s the cold-hearted corporate executive who is willing to terminate long-serving employees without a second thought. Phil is the victim who is left with few options when he becomes unemployed. Bobby is a more complicated victim. He's very stubborn and unwilling to accept help unless it's forced upon him.
As a whole, “The Company Men” is timely but not timeless. It focuses on the difficult decisions that millions of families face in this tough economy. However, the story isn’t as effective or as memorable as 2009’s “Up in the Air," which didn't villainize its characters. Unlike that film, "Men" has an obvious agenda. In addition to the villainization of Salinger, news about corporations paying millions of dollars in bonuses while laying off employees can be heard over the end credits.
Despite some of its one-dimensional characters, "The Company Men" captures the sacrifices that people make during periods of unemployment. It may not be a great movie, but it’s still a good one.