When’s it out?
Who’s in it?
Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Craig T. Nelson and Maria Bello.
What’s it about?
The Company Men follows three characters – cocky up-and-comer Bobby (Ben Affleck), the auspicious but depressive Phil (Chris Cooper) and idealistic success story Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) – as they concurrently deal with the corporate downsizing which has left them all unemployed.
What’s it like?
It’s the flipside to the recent George Clooney vehicle Up in the Air, only much more astute and unromantic.
Star of the show?
The cast are all excellent, and the perpetually misused Ben Affleck is better than he’s ever been. Kevin Costner (as Affleck’s sour, grouchy father-in-law) also conclusively reminds you of why he became a movie star in the first place, but Maria Bello – who continues to stand as one of the most unsung working actresses in Hollywood – is positively arresting. She makes the most of a relatively small (and somewhat implausible) character, and easily matches the work done by her more frequently celebrated – and Oscar-laden – male co-stars.
That it doesn’t sell out, or abandon its own bracing sense of subtlety. Despite the fact that the film climaxes with a curiously upbeat and optimistic ending (which feels somewhat tacked-on, in truth) up until that point it keeps its feet firmly rooted in reality. Ben Affleck’s belligerent sense of pride dissipates only through his gritted teeth, potentially melodramatic plot beats are dealt with very quietly – such as the demise of a marriage which is conveyed via one solitary of dialogue – and for all its dramatic buoyancy, the film’s climax never surrenders to the saccharine.
There isn’t an unmemorable scene in the entire film, but the fascinating way that it takes the time to focus on an otherworldly government system that exists in the US – to assist corporate workers who’ve recently lost their jobs – results in a batch of gripping scenes that feel almost documentary-like. It’s a completely bizarre nine-to-five jobseeker program that inexplicably re-places everyone back into a corporate-style power structure (with the biggest hitters being given their own offices) which invites any and all class and status-based grudges to seethe uncontrollably; encouraging gossip and hampering everyone’s motivation.
Sober, interesting and affecting, The Company Men is a riveting drama that deserved a lot more awards recognition than it got last year. It’s pure 1970s in its approach – the characters are everything – and the fact that it manages to make a trio of inherently unlikeable people – people who any sane person would classify as scumbags without a second thought – is a rich testament to how thoughtfully written it is. It also could have been relentlessly glib and depressing, but it isn’t. How it missed out on a shipload of Oscar nominations is anyone’s guess.
Watch the trailer for The Company Men here: