The movie is the story of Bobby's passage from furious entitlement to grateful humility.

The Company Men

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            If you aren't already there, The Company Men may well lower you into depression. A good cast gives us the flavor of what the current meltdown means to second tier executives who lose their jobs. These are men who have built their lives on the upward trajectory of borrowed money. They have a lot of stuff and many obligations.
            Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) has a wife, two children, a big white house with a mortgage, a Porsche, country club dues, and destination vacations. Wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) recognizes and accepts the situation for what it is: it is serious, and it may not be temporary. The movie is the story of Bobby's passage from furious entitlement to grateful humility.
            Lifted straight from today's front pages, the movie raises issues that have become life challenges for thousands of American families. Though Writer/Director John Wells' upper management characters are not easy objects of sympathy, they are symbols of the problems rippling outward from the financial collapse. Jim Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) is the CEO whose job is to raise the share price of the company so it will be a more attractive takeover target. He can sell a division, sell advice, or fire top level people. He chooses layoffs while pocketing 22 million himself.
            Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) represents the company conscience. Chris Cooper is the 60- something guy who has become invisible to employers. As Maggie's brother Jack, Kevin Costner is a good contractor who actually makes a product. All of them, except Jack, suffer the serial indignities of loss of lifestyle in middle age. These men had done nothing wrong. They simply worked hard and spent their rewards. Now they are in cubicles with telephones searching for jobs that no longer exist. Hanging over the movie, as it does in reality, is the question of whether the lost jobs will ever come back.
            Another hot button question comes at us through Tommy Lee Jones' Gene who co-founded - with CEO Salinger - the original GTX as a ship building company that employed 6000 people making something "they could see, smell, and touch." Now the shipyard is an abandoned wreck and GTX is a conglomerate in a skyscraper. Gene is haunted by America's transformation into a culture that traffics in the arithmetic of bankers, brokers, traders, and managers, a culture that values finance over manufacturing. For years, the manufacturing Mid West has regarded the eastern financiers as bookkeepers and dealmakers for the industrial giants. Deeply resentful, their opinion of the East was: "They build nothing; they are parasites." Now, with manufacturing outsourced, Wall Street is king.
            It's hard to care deeply about characters who are written as messengers of the issues; but issues, not characters, are what this movie is about. After painting the economic future as gravely uncertain, the filmmakers are unable to resist their Hollywood roots. In a sudden and unfathomable twist, they coat their ending with powdered sugar. Bad move.


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