Movie Review – The Company Men
Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is a hotshot sales executive living his life through rose-colored glasses. At the prime of his career at GTX, Bobby is laid off after 12 years of service. Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), his boss and mentor, couldn’t save his job.
Gene later finds that his position is not as secure as he thought – even if he’s friends with James Salinger (Craig Nelson), the callous CEO who earns millions, while conducting rounds of mass layoffs in order to meet the market’s demand and keep the stock prices up. Another aging executive on the chopping block is haggard Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper).
With his qualifications, Bobby smugly believes that he will land on his feet in a matter of days. And with three months worth of severance package that includes outplacement service, he has no plans to leave the good life. Sprawling a McMansion, fancy Porsche, country club membership and luxury vacations have been measures of success. His job has been his identity.
Bobby’s stay-at-home wife turning part-timer, Maggie (Rosemarie De Witt), is loyal, realistic and practical. She gets credit for having her feet planted firmly on the ground and gently urging her husband to get his head out of the sand. Another goes to Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner), her brother, a hard-working owner of a small construction company. He takes in dismissive Bobby as an extra worker even as his business is not exactly breaking even.
Unemployment is ever-present these days making it easy to empathize with those out of work. But Bobby, Gene and Phil are not your “everyman”. They represent the elites who are used to the six-figure lifestyles and Bobby pointedly refuses to even consider a related position paying about half of his previous base salary.
There may be a question of why anyone should bother watching this reality-played-on-screen. If it’s any consolation, the human impact is real. The gamut of emotions that an unemployed goes through – shock, denial, anger, shame, guilt, resignation, dashed dreams, loss of respect and canceled plans are real.
Eventually, with continued hardships, comes the attitude adjustment. The corporate jets and expensed trips are not coming back. Gone are the $500 lunches and $5,000/night hotel stay. The reality is, as a family man with two kids, it may be vital for Bobby to trade in his white-collar suit with a blue-collar sweatshirt – if it means earning an honest pay for an honest day of work, however back-breaking the manual labor may be.
Living “within the means” also takes on a new meaning. Being unemployed is very humbling, not to mention an agonizing experience. There’s rarely any comparison to the struggle of keeping your livelihood. Countless hours are spent pounding the pavement. The stress to keep up the skills as days stretch into weeks, weeks into months and months… without knowing when the end will be in sight. Hopes are intermixed with fears. Finding a job is a full-time job on its own and may be the hardest one of all.
The worst part next to survival is perhaps knowing that the world goes on and leaves you behind. Families, friends, neighbors and acquaintances continue asking about your job search and how you’re holding up. Or they may be in the dark because you’re forced to keep up the charade of appearing successful and professional. Keeping the spirit up and faking enthusiasm can take its toll. For one former executive in “The Company Men”, it may prove to be too humiliating.
The ending, while it felt tacked on, provides an essential positivism to conclude the story. It represents the American spirit. Like its sleeker counterpart, “Up in the Air,” “The Company Men” was born during the worst recession since the Great Depression. It’s the sign of the times and carries much relevancy.
Copyright (c) 2011. Nathalia Aryani.
Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven (http://themoviemaven.posterous.com).