The Company Men is an altogether depressing affair. It dwells on multiple high ranking employees at GTX, a shipyard owning conglomerate. One by one they’re bailed out like so much water in a sinking luxury yacht and it’s our task to stand with them at the unemployment lines, take in the sullen faces of their children, scowl at the ways of the world, and somehow walk away hopeful when the final moments inject way-too-late-breaking optimism.
That last part is almost definitely the product of reshoots that took place in Boston a full year after this movie failed to secure a distributor, even as it boasted a cast of four academy award winners. It’s the kind of project that headlines its own self importance, as if The Company Men is the only existing cinema for adults. It lets the subject matter engage the audience instead of artful storytelling. Still can’t picture it? Imagine The West Wing if Aaron Sorkin had let his producer write and direct the show, then hastily condense all seven seasons into less than two hours. No humor, no spark, just a bunch of people talking politics, or in this case business, with as much emotional impact as a PowerPoint presentation.
The creative force behind it seems intimately aware of the fallout caused by economic recession, even if only by observing people who didn’t invent the popular television show ER. The Company Men is loaded with this kind of intelligent awareness but presents it cold. Dialogue has no rhythm and becomes a game of picking out which lines would have worked well had they been sold better by the cast or contrasted by something, anything other than more whining. I can picture an alternate reality where “My life ended and nobody noticed!” is a clip played while Chris Cooper sits and watches himself from a table at the Academy Awards.
Characters seem to be preaching to the fourth wall instead of connecting with each other, except when they’re condemning their relationships, as we condemn in return. Watch them blame each other. Identify and sympathize with the upper echelon as they fight to reclaim five hundred dollar lunches. Even the most compassionate of them is cheating on his wife with a younger employee. What purpose does that serve the narrative?
As the film would have it, we care about these men because we hate women. On one side of the bed, an adulteress also fires everyone in the film. The adulterer has a wife that buys a $16,000 end table and takes a private jet to Palm Springs. Poor Tommy Lee Jones, stuck in the middle. Another spouse in this film appears borderline narcoleptic and won’t let her husband come home to his two kids during work hours because the neighbors might notice. Fine, Chris Cooper. That’s a free pass to make the most selfish decision in the film. Only Ben Affleck’s character has a woman that isn’t concentrated evil, but does she consider getting a job of her own? No, she’ll ask her brother to save the day, a scabby handed carpenter played by Kevin Costner.
While on the subject, if Kevin Costner is the most likable guy in your movie, it fails in ways I never thought possible. Costner had the worst Boston accent in cinema history (Thirteen Days) but redeems himself by playing a man of few words. This is the kind of character acting he’s comfortable with and I’d love to see him continue to embrace it instead of casting himself in another self-directed Western. Other Beantown contributions include from-left-field dialogue about the local quarterback, a college jersey suddenly centered in frame, and a fortune-500 where everyone speaks as if they’re at a sports bar. In my life I’ve never seen college kids play football in the Commons park, let alone corporate castoffs.
It might have been a mistake to jump on the New England theme but filming in Boston seems to have aided The Company Men beyond tax incentives. Cinematographer and frequent Coen bros. collaborator Rodger Deakins locks down photography of broken windowed factories and shipyards to contrast the artificial boardrooms and holiday delicatessen home interiors. There really were skyscrapers being completed as the economy started on a downward course, and when I viewed this city from one of its top floors I could only think of how much it would cost to own that space for just an hour.
Additionally, the lesser parts are handled well by local theater talent. I don’t know if the out-placement woman chanting “Faith, courage, and enthusiasm!” is one of these but it really did touch on the kind of false care that companies project as they’re pulling the rug out. While never consistent, the men of The Company Men bring to the table what they’re tasked with. It’s a shame that’s best defined as disgruntled monotone, and that none of them can escape the trappings of bottomless pity while owning ties that could feed them for weeks. Computer’s right there, fellas. Start that eBay account.
If you’d like a slice of limbo life, feel free to shrink into the couch and experience what it feels like. But while the disenfranchised may deserve to have their stories told, a dragged out drama is definitely the wrong fit. The parts of The Company Men that make us think are exhausting because it never once has a sense of humor at the absurdity of it all. I’d sooner recommend Up In the Air, if only for the Zach Galifianakis cameo.
Overall Score: 5.05 – Bad. (5s are movies that either failed at reaching the goals it set out to do, or didn’t set out to do anything special and still had many flaws. Some will enjoy 5s, but unless you’re a fan of this genre, you shouldn’t see it, and might not even want to rent it.)
Robin Barr: 7.10 – Good. Just shy of compelling, The Company Men competently straddles the line between depressing and inspirational. Solid performances and stark narrative contrasts work to put you in the mind of the recently unemployed. Unfortunately, none of the characters are intriguing enough to truly garner your sympathy.