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The Company Men

The Company Men

By Jack Murphy • January 23rd, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Universal Pictures

Release date: August 1st, 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 104 minutes

Writer and director: John Wells

Cast: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner

Opening with a shot that pans over large houses with swimming pools, expensive cars, and golf clubs, The Company Men sees what happens to the individuals and their families when all of these riches are quickly taken away.

The story initially focuses on Bobby (Affleck), a middle-aged, successful managerial company man who is made redundant whilst at the top of his game. As he spends time searching for a new job, the reality of his situation gradually unfolds and he comes to realise that his former life is gone forever.

The story then broadens out to include his former boss, and friend, Gene McClary, a higher managerial company man that has a real crisis of conscience with the company cut backs and the lives that are being destroyed in the process. To add an extra dimension to the film is Phil Woodward, a man somewhere in-between Bobby and Gene, despite working to the bone he may not necessarily make the grade with his company.

The Company Men

Bobby was hard to place as a character; it was easy to feel sorry for him in his circumstances and resistance to change, but he was so unlikeable in every possible way. All the while his life and family are crumbling around him, he still insists that he must play golf and ‘look successful’, as he screams at his wife. His attachment to Corporate America is saddening, but not very relatable, and that is why he doesn’t get much sympathy in spite of his losses.

If Affleck was aiming for a really easy to hate corporate man then he succeeded, and to that extent it is well acted: Affleck was a believable victim caught in corporate crossfire. The moments of intensity, particularly screaming in a hospital or at an interview, were well delivered, as were the more tender moments with his son or friends. There is no doubt that Bobby is a man that is struggling and clinging on to whatever he can.

The real counter-balance to this unlikeable company man was his wife, Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt). A realist from the beginning, Maggie quickly accepts their fate and fights against the tide of Bobby’s arrogance to keep their family afloat. DeWitt plays Maggie as a rock that holds everyone in place, and she is very convincing as the strong mother and wife.

The Company Men

On the other side of the story was Phil and Gene; both had devoted their lives to the company, but Gene seems to cope much better with being separated from it. With a slow and painful decline, witnessed by Gene, Phil sinks lower and lower and this was all very well portrayed by Cooper. It’s the drunken moments that contribute to Phil’s breakdown that are Cooper’s forte in The Company Men.

The Company Men could have afforded to have more Jones, he was by a mile the best part of the film. His humanist attitudes in the board room was fighting against everything the company was standing for, and in the end he came out with the moral victory that we were all rooting for. Even in light of his illicit affair he was still the strongest character – mainly because his wife was not particularly nice to say the least. The character was very interesting and conflicted, and Jones portrayed all of that in a single glance, and his numerous speeches.

The Company Men

It was all very well cast, and well written. With the dialogue at points being particularly striking, there is a lot to be said for John Wells in the writing of The Company Men. But where it fell down was that there were too many stories going on at once, and none of these stories, or their individual characters, were given enough time to grow.

Bobby was given the most screen time, but even that didn’t feel like enough to get to sympathise with him as much as we could’ve done. Gene and Phil were given much less screen time, when they could potentially have taken over the entire film. The Company Men could have been divided into three separate films and it would have been more successful in getting to the heart of what it really wanted to do: show the effect of the credit-crunch on the working man.

The Company Men

On-top of this, the whole film moved too fast as well; there was no way of measuring time so it just kept moving on and because it was hard to understand how time had moved on, some of the drama in the film did begin to feel quite insignificant. It was a feel good ending to some extent, but by that point it was easy to have lost interest in some of the characters. What it didn’t do was make everything picture perfect, or have any real comeuppances, so it played closer to the truth and it is commendable for that reason.

Overall, a very good effort by Wells as he has written a very touching story which was well executed and well acted by his famous cast, amongst the lesser known actors as well. The intricacies of the interacting plots and the pace of the story did let The Company Men down as it had the potential to be much more than it was.

Jack Murphy

Jack Murphy

Jack is an English Literature student in his early Twenties (The Golden Age!) at the University of Leeds. He insists on saying that he’s originally from Slough, Berkshire which is the setting of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series The Office – and not a day goes by that he’s not reminded of that fact… Irrespective of being mocked for it, Jack still is, and will most likely remain, a big Gervais fan.

And he sure knows how to spend his time. Having subscribed to a well known DVD delivery service for the past three years, Jack spends half of his days watching DVDs – and the other half on catch-up websites watching TV programmes.

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