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The Company Men

[Rating: 3/5]

I had a hard time caring for the characters in the “The Company Men” for at least its first hour, and Ben Affleck is mostly to blame.  This is a movie about rich, arrogant businessmen being taken down a peg, and Affleck has just always seemed like he needs to be taken down a peg.  Also, I had just come from a conference where we discussed things like poverty, genocide, abuse and addiction, and it felt hard — if not impossible — to care about the problems of rich white guys.

Affleck plays a salesman in a shipbuilding company that is downsizing.  He’s a hotshot MBA who spends his mornings on the golf course then spends the rest of the day bragging about his score.  Chris Cooper works for the same company, but worked his way up from the factory floor. Craig T. Nelson is the CEO, and Tommy Lee Jones is his sidekick and old college roommate; he got in on the ground floor but is increasingly vocal about his second guesses about the direction in which the company’s moving.

I think you’re not supposed to like Affleck through the first half of the film; that’s a risky move by the director, because the “off”  button on the remote is not that far away.  When he loses his job in the first round of downsizing, he acts as if life outside the top 0.1% richest people in the world isn’t worth living.  Tears well up in his eyes as he sells his Porsche, and he throws a big whiney fit when he finds out his wife hasn’t been paying his club fees at the golf course.  It’s close to unbearable.

Ironically, Jones, who is much richer, seems much more grounded.  Or maybe it’s just that I like Tommy Lee Jones a lot more than Ben Affleck. His wife asks for the private jet to do some shopping in Palm Springs, and then comes home with a $15,000 coffee table.  He looks sad and trapped by his possessions and lifestyle, acutely aware that there’s something wrong with firing people while making $5 million a year, but not at all sure how he got into this position, or how to change things.  Giving back his paycheck won’t drive up the company stock, and for his boss and best friend, that’s all that matters any more.

And then there’s Chris Cooper, who seems doomed to playing miserable characters his entire career.  It’s something in his eyes, I guess. The only question in regards to his character is whether he’ll kill himself quietly or kill a bunch of other people and then kill himself.

“The Company Men” is about the men who screwed, and continue to screw our economy; it’s about the unsustainable rift between CEOs and the people they employ, and the cutthroat impersonal nature of working for stockholders instead of companies or employees.  But it also recognizes that it is these men, and others like them, who made this the richest country in the world, through their hard work, determination, gutsy risk-taking and innovation.  In a way, it’s like watching “Rocky II;”  it’s about bloated fighters facing a real challenge and needing to get back into fighting shape.  I guess that would be one way to sum up where we are as a country; rich and bloated, but still with some fight left and in need of a good mean trainer.

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