“The Company Men,” a new downsizing drama starring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones, is the flipside of last year’s hit “Up in the Air.” Where George Clooney and company gave us a glimpse into the inner workings of how companies fire employees, “The Company Men” shows us the other side, what happens to people who find themselves suddenly left out in the cold.
The story revolves around three men in different stages of their careers at GTX, a shipping and manufacturing conglomerate in the midst of restructuring and sale. Middle management type Bobby Walker (Affleck) is the first to be let go. He’s arrogant, refuses to believe he is unemployable, and is convinced there is a corner office with his name on the door somewhere out there. Cooper is Phil Woodward, a few rungs higher on the ladder, but also a few years older. When he gets fired his grey hair gets in the way of finding a new job. Finally at the top of the ladder is Gene McClary (Jones), the company’s gruff CFO. He’s a corporate shark tired of swimming in infested waters.
“The Company Men” taps into the zeitgeist. According to the movie corporations are big bad soulless beasts that have led to the collapse of the homegrown manufacturing industry. The only way America will survive, it suggests, is by getting back to basics, switching off Bloomberg TV and putting employees in front of the bottom line. It’s not a revolutionary premise, but it is a timely and crowd pleasing one.
Performances are top notch from Affleck whose arrogant façade slowly gets chipped away until he is forced to deal with his humiliation, fear and anger to Cooper’s world weary white collar panic but it is Jones and Kevin Costner who really shine. Jones’s take on a corporate bigwig rediscovering his idealism is by times warm, by time caustic but always compelling, and Costner, as a small businessman—read: salt of the earth—who doesn’t worry about the books as much as he does for his workers is terrific in a small but important role.
It may be hard to make us feel empathy for former highflyers whose biggest issue is where to place the second Christmas tree or how much to ask for their Porsche but “The Company Men” does a good job of shining a light on the situation as a whole and leveling the playing field, telling a story about the people and not the corporations that spawned them.