The Company Men Review

(2.5 STARS)

John Wells’ The Company Men is a film I wanted to like more than I actually did like it. Where 2009 masterpiece Up in the Air looked at mass firings from the corporate point-of-view, this film takes a look at the personal difficulties that come as a result of being fired. What resulted should have been a touching look at how quickly our lives can be broken and the realization that it’s family that matters—you know, all that shit. There are glimpses of that kind of film in here, but The Company Men’s focus is too muddled for us to really connect to any character.

Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is a successful Boston sales executive for GTX, a company that manufactures shipping products. One day, without warning, he’s let go—a cost-cutting maneuver, according to his former superiors. This leaves his life temporarily shattered. He’s unsure what to do with himself, and he can’t quite seem to come to grips with the fact that he can’t continue leading the affluent lifestyle he has grown accustomed to.

The film also follows two other men. One is Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), who is slightly higher up than Bobby at GTX. He is spared from the first round of layoffs, but not the second. With a daughter at Brown and a very expensive mortgage to pay off, Phil takes his fate even worse than Bobby. The third man in the equation is Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones). Gene is higher up than Bobby or Phil. In fact, he’s the best friend of the company’s president, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) and has been with GTX since it started. But he quite openly disagrees with James’ decisions to fire workers to cut costs, rather than scale back on executive privileges. So he too is let go, forcing him to re-examine his life.

The biggest problem with the film is its lack of focus on one character. It really doesn’t get much into the lives of Phil and Gene, so they feel very underdeveloped, and any time with them just takes away from Bobby’s storyline—the film’s most compelling material. The film is short enough that its problems aren’t too glaring, but its brevity hinders it because a few more character-developing scenes with Phil and/or Gene would make us care more about these storylines.

Bobby is a compelling character. He’s played quite well by Ben Affleck, and the film doesn’t take the easy way out emotionally. It seems like a truly honest look at a man with a family who was fired. I also really appreciated the scenes with Bobby at the job placement center. There’s this little community formed with fired workers from all sorts of different backgrounds and companies. I thought this subplot was quite strong and worked much better than anything with Phil or Gene.

Ultimately, the film comes together quite nicely, but it felt like a case of too little too late. Decent acting can’t do a ton to make up for underwritten characters. And one involving storyline isn’t enough to recommend a film that feels like it’s half-baked.

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