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Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is living the proverbial American dream: great job, beautiful family, shiny Porsche in the garage. When corporate downsizing leaves him and co-workers Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) jobless, the three men are forced to re-define their lives as men, husbands and fathers. Bobby soon finds himself enduring enthusiastic life coaching, a job as a carpenter for his builder brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) that does not play to his executive skill set, and perhaps -- the realization that there is more to life than chasing the bigger, better deal.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The GFC has delivered its first KFC movie, an easy take away with little to nourish our cinematic wellbeing; The Company Men has a predictability and ordinariness that defies its subject matter. Perhaps the problem lies in the filmmakers' inability to decide whether to go for the 'heartless corporate bastards' look or the 'middle class Americans don't give up' battle cry. In the ensuing battle, the audience are the losers.

Don't get me wrong, there are a million good stories in this subject (probably literally) and the collateral damage in human terms of the financial collapse of 2008 is worth exploring. And not just from the working class point of view. Still, it's a bit hard to feel too much of their pain when our characters have got used to lavish lifestyles which are paraded in front of us with the opening credits. From the lavish homes to the Porsche to the endless toys and games and baubles that have been accumulated by executives on salaries upwards of US$120,000 plus extras.

The fact that they all live to the max of their income and their domestic loans and golf club expenses are geared to the full is part of the reason we may feel less empathy than for those who have no cushion (like an expensive car) to cash in.

But given that it's a valid story no matter where in the workforce our characters are, the exploration of their fate on being made redundant needs to tell us (better still, show us) something we don't already know or can imagine. What do we learn here, that it's a shock and it's hard to suddenly lose your job? That one guy might take it harder than others, and that even close friendships at the top of the corporate tree are no insurance when the stock price falls? That some will survive by learning new skills?

The film's saving grace is its outstanding cast, each of whom manages to make us care at least a little bit. Ben Affleck plays the central character, Bobby Walker, a super salesman in the GTX corporation, who feels the sudden loss of oxygen when he is fired, with 12 weeks pay. His buddies higher up the management chain, Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) are not far behind. The latter suffers the added ignominy of being fired by his mistress, Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) who is the HR boss at GTX.

The score is as predictable as the screenplay, with downbeat cues on guitar and violins just when we don't really need them. As for the resolution, it's a bit of a clichee and as satisfying as a cheap take away.

Review by Louise Keller:
The conundrum about whether work makes the man or man makes the work is explored in this gripping film about the toils, the spoils and the impact when all is lost for men who become the company's collateral. John Wells, whose successful career has mostly been concentrated in television has conceived, written, directed and produced an interesting film that sits topically in today's economically challenging times when downsizing and tough times are part of everyday life. An elite cast headed by Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper embody the successful company men whose status, relationships and self-worth are put to the test when turbulence strikes with an unexpected pink slip.

By integrating the lives and situations of the three key characters whose lives are impacted adversely by company cutbacks, Wells is able to emphasise and add layers, allowing us to understand the context and become deeply involved in these closely aligned relationships. Bobby Walker (Affleck) enjoys his status as top divisional sales manager, complete with Porsche convertible, beautiful home, wife and children who have become accustomed to having everything they want. With Bobby (Affleck is in fine form) we experience shock, dismay and anger before having to contemplate the options, where hopes are dashed and expectations lowered before faith, courage and enthusiasm pay dividends. Loyalties and relationships are tested and pride is swallowed before some unexpected repercussions arise.

The detail may be different, but the same goes for Bobby's straight-talking boss Gene McClary (Jones) who has access to corporate jets, holiday perks in the Bahamas and a propensity for honesty. He also has a regular Tuesday lunchtime rendez-vous with his mistress, the shapely head of Human Resources, ably played by Maria Bello. Phil Woodward (Cooper) is pushing 60 and has no option but to allow himself to be pushed around. For the older executive with few options, redundancy is a terrifying prospect.

All the cast is superb and I especially like Kevin Costner as Bobby's rough as nails builder brother-in-law, who gives Bobby a menial job as a carpenter when all else fails. As a character actor, Costner seems to be picking such good roles these days, having fearlessly made the transition from leading man.

While Up in the Air put a light spin on the issues of downsizing, The Company Men delves into the psychological aspects connected to loss. As a result, this is a punchy film that looks at the strength of the human spirit and how to navigate the shaky tightrope back to solid ground.
First published in the Sun-Herald

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(US, 2011)

CAST: Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Thomas Kee, Craig Mathers, Gary Galone, Suzanne Rico

PRODUCER: John Wells, Claire Rudnick Polstein, Paula Weinstein

DIRECTOR: John Wells

SCRIPT: John Wells


EDITOR: Robert Frazen

MUSIC: Aaron Zigman


RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes



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