The Company Men

Men of a Certain Rage


Starring: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones

Review by Robert Patrick

There are a few things that are certain in this world. Some say death is imminent, but Olivia de Havilland is still alive, so this is false. Taxes, for the most part, are also avoidable (Wesley Snipes, you almost made it!) Things that are certain, however, are the things that, because of their low-level importance, people have overlooked or taken for granted. You can always expect Ben Affleck to make movies about Boston, for example, and he’s usually a construction worker in those films (“Good Will Hunting”, “The Town”, and now some sequences in “The Company Men”). I find these things amusing, and usually entertaining, but “The Company Men” is better left on paper than it is on film. The movie centers around Bobby Walker (Affleck), a upper-class employee that has just been jettisoned from a big business. He’s not alone, though, and even higher caliber big-whigs in the corporation are getting the heave-ho from the boys at the top. Players like Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) and Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), who have been around for ages, are getting crushed like aluminum cans. Director John Wells, known primarily as the guy behind the camera when “ER” was big, takes a look at the creaking economy, the loss of jobs, and the toll it takes on the American family. Well, some American families anyway. The American families that drink wine out of carafes and contemplate suicide because they cant afford their daughter’s trip to Europe for the summer.

This movie doesn’t matter to me. It more than likely wont matter to you. It wont matter to audiences after they have left the theater. Instead of writing a script about the thousands of people who have lost their jobs – jobs that pay significantly less than the suits portrayed here by Affleck and company – Wells centers his film around people who are forced to leave their six figure jobs and accept packages that are worth more in two weeks than most people make in a six month period of unemployment. What does Affleck have to resort to after losing his big business wings? He has to, gasp, work for his brother-in-law laying drywall. He even declines the offer at one point, because, as his unyielding hubris attests to, he cannot perform manual labor. I’m sure this speaks to the droves of people that would kill to get a job like that. College grads are having a difficult time harpooning the most basic of customer service positions, and we’re expected to care about the existential quandaries of a man that would rather bury himself in concrete than lay it?

The movie is filled with scenes of Chris Cooper launching rocks at his ex-employer’s building; Ben Affleck refusing to take work that doesn’t behest his talents; and Tommy Lee Jones feeling bad about life but doing nothing about it. I wouldn’t say this is the most offensive movie of the year (this is my third shot at “Enter the Void”) but it is the most exploitive and unnecessary addition to the already expendable catalog of work ushered in by semi-inspired directors. Imagine showing a movie about families with old money, such as the Vanderbilts, who lose a modicum of their land. Now imagine showing that same movie to theater full of poor dock workers in the nineteen-thirties. I’m sure they would be outraged. If you want to have a commentary about the gaunt monetary situation in modern America, you would do better to carry the message with shoulders of humility, not impetuous arms. This movie, aside from it being a clumsy study of modern man, has a poor script, oblivious direction, and manipulative subject matter.

No, the drubbings of people who lose something, to only continue having more than others, is not a movie I want to heartily sympathize with. “Up in the Air”, a movie with far more decency and skill, handled the subject of recession in a more caring way. As it stands, “The Company Men” isn’t really a movie so much as a brutal slap in the face to people who have less, work more. Until the next Boston/Affleck/construction movie, I bid you farewell.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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