Back during the Great Depression, there was a musical comedy called Down to Their Last Yacht. While John Wells’ The Company Men is neither a musical, nor a comedy, I think Down to Their Last Porsche would be a better title for this movie for our Not-So-Great-Depression. This is a movie that actually tries to elicit sympathy for Ben Affleck by showing him get all misty-eyed when he has to sell his Porsche. If that doesn’t break your heart, then surely you’ll be moved by the discovery that his son has been willing to forgo his new X-Box 360 for the good of the family coffers surely will. Hard times, my dears, hard times. And hard cheese for the Weinsteins, who once had visions of Oscars dancing before their eyes for this, and are now contenting themselves with letting it slink its way into a few theaters.
Don’t misunderstand. I suspect that Wells and company all have the very best intentions, but their view of the world is so extremely out of whack with the one most of us live in that the results fall somewhere inbetween insulting and almost comedic. It feels altogether like a lecture on how rich folks are suffering, too. Why, they might have to content themselves with staying in their Architectural Digest houses rather than wintering in Palm Beach. And that would be tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Matters are not helped in the least by the fact that Wells comes from the world of TV and it shows, particularly in the ridiculous decision to find a silver lining in the last few scenes. Granted, Affleck’s character might only make $60,000 a year, but times are tough.
The whole point of the film is to look at the effects of corporate downsizing (never mind that Up in the Air did a better job of it last year). With this in mind, we’re served up Bobby Walker (Affleck) as the central character—and the first to go when the outfit he works for decides he’s redundant. However, he’s quickly followed by long-time company veteran Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), who at nearly 60 is understandably a little nervous about his future. Even their old boss Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) gets the boot. Bobby is ill-tempered about the whole thing, especially when he finds that the business world isn’t clamoring for him and he has to take a construction job working for his brother-in-law, Jack (Kevin Costner). Since Jack is the most believable character in the film, naturally he’s not in it very much.
Large chunks of the plot really make no sense in terms of reality. McClary notes at one point that his company stock—thanks to the cost-cutting—is worth $500,000 more “than it was yesterday,” but what about Bobby and Phil, who seemingly never bought any stock and don’t have any back-up funds? A man who has been with the one company for over 30 years—a good deal of it in the realm of corporate management—with no stock, no savings, no retirement fund, no nothing is a little hard to understand. And a little hard to root for.
Things proceed in an orderly and predictable manner, even to the point of flirting with melodrama. A little real melodrama mightn’t have hurt. I could more readily get behind the idea of old Phil blowing up corporate headquarters than a scene of him flinging rocks at the building from an impossible distance. The tepid variety of melodrama the film dishes up is unexciting and unpersuasive. That actually serves as a pretty good description of the whole thing.
I suppose that the most trenchant lesson to be learned from the film is that in corporate America—no matter how high you climb—the corporation is never really your friend, doesn’t have your best interest at heart, and views you only as slightly less disposable than an entry-level janitor. The problem with this is that it’s something I think most of us already know. With that in mind, who exactly is this movie designed for? Rated R for language and nudity.