Mar 12, 2011

The Company Men [15]

Dir: John Wells
Lately a lot of movies have been addressing the financial crisis that engulfed the western world in 2008. John Wells; former head honcho at ER and show runner for The West Wing's patchy post Sorkin years looks at it from a slightly different angle with this, his feature directorial debut. Rather than follow the model of most of the films that have examined the crisis so far - rage laden documentraies questioning why no bankers have yet been prosecuted - Wells follows several people who have just lost their jobs at GTX, a fictional transport infrastructure company.

The major miscalculation here is where on the ladder Wells opts to focus, the poorest individual we follow is Ben Affleck's Bobby; a happily married (to Rosemarie De Witt) mid-level exec earning $160,000 a year. We're apparently supposed to empathise as he realises (or rather fails to realise), that he can no longer afford his Porsche, or his golf club membership, or even his ridiculously large house. We're supposed to identify as he metaphorically sticks his fingers in his ears and bawls 'la la la, I'm not listening' as his wife suggests they reign in their excesses. I think we're even supposed to cheer when, insulted at being interviewed for a job paying a measly $65,000, he behaves like a petulant child. And this is the guy on the bottom of the pile in this movie. It's tough to care.

The annoying thing about The Company Men is that, despite the fact that it's so hard to really care about these obscenely well paid people who are, apparently, plunged into poverty the second they are laid off, it's not a bad film. Wells' writing and direction are both solid, if a little middle of the road, though the film's imagery is lent occasional beauty (see Chris Cooper lighting up in his garage in silhouette) courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins, but the performances are generally excellent.

I was never as down on Ben Affleck as many critics seemed to be, okay, he was never DeNiro (but then nor has DeNiro been for the past 15 years), but he was always a solid, likeable, leading man. Happily over the past few years he seems to be somewhat reinvograted as an actor, and he's good here as Bobby, it's not a loud, showy, performance, but it feels credible. Reliable character players Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper deliver the goods too, with Jones notably relying less than usual on the grizzled tics that his work can degenerate into. Another actor I've more time for than most; Kevin Costner, is also solid, he's settling into middle age nicely as a character actor, and has become better now that he's less able to coast on good looks and charm. On the downside, the reliably excellent Maria Bello is wasted ; she has about 12 lines and flashes her breasts, but there's no real reason for this role to go to an actor of her estimable talents.

For me, the performance that really makes this movie is Rosemarie De Witt's. As in Rachel Getting Married, she's not doing anything big (if anything she's underwritten here, a slight cliché of a supportive but concerned wife), but she's an actor of simple conviction; you just believe her. Thanks to her performance there's some investment in the marriage between her character and Affleck's, and you believe in them as a long term couple. If there is any sympathy at all engendered for Bobby it is through this relationship and this performance. On a personal note, if 'happily married to Rosemarie De Witt' were part of the equation, I'd take my old job at McDonald's back.

At the end of the day The Company Men is a perfectly well crafted film, but because it's hard to get too exercised when - oh no - someone might not be able to afford a $275,000 table anymore it is tough to get very involved with it. The performances are good enough to make it a worthy rental but I would find it hard to insist that you go and seek it out a big screen.

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