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"The Company Men" poster

"The Company Men" | a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

"I like five-hundred dollar lunches and five-thousand dollar hotel suites." It 's one of the better lines Tommy Lee Jones gets to speak in "The Company Men."

How can that come as any surprise? Everyone I've ever known would certainly take favor with eating such a lunch or relaxing in such accommodations... and maybe regularly.

What is surprising about this is... Gene McClary, the man Jones plays in this film, is one of the good guys. You don't know that immediately, but Gene turns out to be a GTX executive who might be the only one in the company who gives a damn about others in the office. He's the number two man at a fictitious, big company based in a Boston where some of the accents flounder.

Gene's boss, James Salinger, is played by Craig T. Nelson. And is James ever in a downsizing mood. Wall Street is ‘"breathing down Salinger's neck" to make it happens in "The Company Men," not be confused with Neil LaBute's film of 1997 on an even more unpleasant topic, titled, "In the Company of Men."

Chris Cooper & associates

Chris Cooper & associates

Two executives of lesser clout are, as they say these days, impacted by Salinger's downsizing orders. Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) and Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), respectively---but not so respectfully---are fired with many other GTX employees of less significance. Both are given generous severance packages before they head out to find commensurate employment. Bobby is 37 years old. Phil is leaning into 60. Only slightly less smooth than Salinger's and McClary's...the GTX ride has been a comfortable one for Walker and Woodward, as well.

Soon, though, Salinger reconstitutes GTX's downsizing due to its performance shortfall being measured from the New York City hood of Wall and Broad. New GTX redundancy measurements put McClary in Salinger's crosshairs---so to speak.

Now, Gene is out on his butt, too... even if he has made enough money through the years not to feel any bite in his lifestyle, other than being a high dollar earner looking to keep busy doing things that suggest some importance and real productivity... unlike the money games GTX now plays along with much of big business. The productivity bit, with McClary in tow, is laid-out toward the close of "Company Men," for some messaging to the times in which we live.

John Wells, who has "ER" and "The West Wing" on his resumé is responsible for writing and directing "The Company Men." And, what with the super gratuitous bonuses top management gives unto itself these days, as well as those bracing casino antics now in the realm of high finance, Wells has a timely subject at hand. But, his film needs more punch. It boasts only a skosh more than an episode of "CSI-Wherever," on any given weeknight.

"The Company Men," if you'll visualize it in your head, is like a camera trucking alongside an unfortunate meltdown of the American economy. The mission is not to intrude so much on the intricacies of the downturn, but to chronicle how these things affect (or impact) people, other than the common folk, although they are brought into the narrative at proper moments. That's where Kevin Costner comes in, as Jack, bringing his blue collar understanding to the plight of his brother-in-law, Bobby.

Maria Bello

Maria Bello from
"The History of Violence"

"Company Men" gives you the skinny on an upper middle-class family---Bobby and Maggie Walker and their two kids---having to shave off its regimen a bunch, indeed, of the things that many of us consider "make life worthwhile."

And so it goes, with Phil and his spouse, too. They're surviving at a level or two above Bobby and Maggie... with Gene and his pampered, classy wife confronting their economic trauma in estrangement, but still getting those dividend checks in the mail.

Gene is having an office affair with Sally Wilcox which has little to say to the story except bringing Maria Bello into the cast as Sally... and for which no criticism can be leveled. More of Maria, please.

Rosemarie DeWitt, as Maggie, though, is where to catch fine acting not, sort of, phoned-in---although Affleck, Jones, Cooper and Bello do deliver. It's just that DeWitt's talent still reverberates in me after her turn in the title role of a 2008 film that centered on another woman well-played by Anne Hathaway. I hope you saw "Rachel Getting Married."

John Houseman: "You come in here with a skull full of mush and you leave thinking like a lawyer."

"You come in here with a skull
full of mush and you leave
thinking like a lawyer."

Glengarry Glen Ross

DeWitt appears to me, so far, to be actor who nails her characters with what might be called, subtle fanfare. She just is the person she happens to be playing, in a particular part. She's Maggie here... just as much as she was Rachel in her film with Hathaway as her sister.

DeWitt has excellent scenes with Affleck in "Company," that are nearly as good as the ones she and Hathaway share in "Rachel."

John Wells combines a TV-like drama with a dash of TV news-verité. Brian Williams and other familiar faces on network and cable news whiz by during the opening credits to give the time frame... with sound bites of familiar voices delivering news copy and comment in order to adjust the focus, so to speak, on the problems at hand. One rejoinder goes something like this: "Those equity traders, just like the TV commercial says, make money the old-fashioned way---they steal it." May John Houseman rest in peace.

But "The Company Men" doesn't make it into a league with other masculine-canted works about salesmanship and commerce, particularly, "Glengarry Glen Ross." (Notice the poster for that movie of David Mamet's play may have given rise to the one conjured for the film being reviewed here.) Or, and still coming to mind: a forgettable film about losers attending a sales conference in Wichita titled, "The Big Kahuna." And at first, I thought that klunker was an episode on "Hawaii-Five-Oh."

"The Company Men" official site. Now in limited release.

See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2011, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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