Film Reviews

"The Company Men" Takes Pity on the Emasculated Executive

Tracking the parallel trajectories of three employees laid off from cushy corporate jobs at the same Boston-based manufacturing conglomerate, The Company Men is transparent in its ambition to capture The Way We Live Now from a sensitive, equitable — rather than a withering and satiric — point of view.

Writer/director John Wells portrays the economic crisis and contemporary workplace experience through three representatives, each of a distinct generation and origin, who end up meeting somewhere in the middle. Bobby (Ben Affleck) is the cocky young hotshot with the perfect-seeming family, forced to trade in his Porsche and his pride and take a job with his proudly blue-collar brother (Kevin Costner). Bobby's two former colleagues, both in postmiddle-age/pre-retirement limbo, are large-living, still-idealistic-at-65 exec Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) and Phil (Chris Cooper), a 50-ish boozer who worked his way up to management from the factory floor and can't conceive of how to fill a day off the clock.

For Wells, who is better-known as the showrunner of ER and The West Wing, character is paramount over story and style. Wells' idiom-thick script, Roger Deakins' coolly detail-oriented cinematography, and Robert Frazen's cross-cutting serves primarily to elevate relatable types into archetypes, heroic and/or tragic and/or triumphant and/or martyred. Wells' weakest link is pacing: Here, he takes his time setting up the distinct social strata and moving Bobby from one (country club) to another (construction site), almost as if he has a full season to flesh out arcs. The whiplash-quick happy ending, probably intended as inspirational wish fulfillment, actually comes off as kind of a joke.

The Company Men may put movie-star faces on some of the economy's least sympathetic victims, but it's not an urgent portrait of our tough times — in part because we're still living those times and are even more aware now that there's no quick happy ending. What still rings true, however, is the symbiotic link between money and masculinity. Not exactly dude-friendly (the pyrotechnics are all actorly, and emasculation is as pervasive as the defense-mechanism body humor in a bromance), The Company Men is maybe best understood as a chick flick about dicks: Before its too-easy conclusion, the movie offers a multifaceted glimpse at what can happen when the connective tissue between a man and his source of income is cut and rarely suggests that it could be anything less than excruciating to stop the bleeding.

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Karina Longworth