Sunday, December 12, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Company Men

The Company Men
Directed by John Wells
Released December 10, 2010

Layoffs are never a pleasant topic of conversation. With the current state of the economy and the difficulty of finding a job for today’s college graduates, it’s an extremely relevant and powerful subject. In “The Company Men,” it’s not new hires who find themselves out of a job but three dedicated workers who have devoted years (Affleck’s character is on the low end of the spectrum at twelve) of service to a large organization and suddenly find themselves kicked to the curb and without much hope of jumping right into an altogether new job.

The portrait of three different individuals, all at their own places in their lives, works well as a way of applying the effects of a layoff to any kind of person. Ben Affleck’s Bobby Walker is the type who could reasonably find another job with lower pay and survive financially, but his refusal to give up certain luxuries and appear unsuccessful and unemployed works against him. Chris Cooper’s Phil Woodward doesn’t have much aside from his job, and he’s too high up in the organization to be able to easily transfer to another company. Tommy Lee Jones’ Gene McClary, a vice-president at the company, has the financial means to stay afloat indefinitely and little desire or need to find other employment. The fact that the three men know each other helps add to the meaningfulness of the comparisons.

In certain respects, “The Company Men” oversimplifies situations with its stark characterizations. Yet its story is strong enough to sustain its premise and follow its chosen characters and their families and friends (in that order) down the paths they take and the roads they travel. It doesn’t feel, as it easily could, like Bobby, Phil, and Gene are the only people in the world, and that’s addressed early on when Bobby’s secretary immediately asks if she still has a job after he’s been fired and he snaps back at her that he didn’t think to ask about her continued employment. Implications and consequences aren’t taken for granted here, and instead this is an exploration of how three specific characters and personality types deal with whatever comes their way. “The Company Men” is an affirming, meaningful, relatable, believable movie that, despite its somewhat optimistic outlook, doesn’t dumb down its characters or paint an overly positive picture of things. It’s the kind of movie whose theatrical release at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 feels entirely appropriate.


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