MOVIE RATINGS GUIDE: * (UTTER CRAP), *1/2 (CRAP), ** (MEDIOCRE), **1/2 (AVERAGE), *** (ABOVE AVERAGE), ***1/2 (GOOD), **** (VERY GOOD), ****1/2 (EXCELLENT), ***** (SPECTACULAR)....

1 (Atrocious); 2 (Utter Crap); 3 (Crap); 4 (Mediocre) ;5 (Average); 6 (Above Average); 7 (Good); 8 (Very Good); 9 (Excellent); 10 (Spectacular)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

# 225 - THE COMPANY MEN (2010)

THE COMPANY MEN (2010 - DRAMA) ***1/2 out of *****

(Well, that was a downer...)

I see London, I see France...

CAST: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper, Maria Bello, Rosemary DeWitt, Craig T. Nelson.

DIRECTOR: John Wells.

WARNING: Some SPOILERS and some buzz-killing subject matters straight ahead…




Picture this: a husband and wife are sitting at the dinner table reading the movie schedules, trying to pick a film to go to that evening.

HUSBAND: Look, babe… that new Ben Affleck/Tommy Lee Jones/Kevin Costner movie called THE COMPANY MEN is playing down the street in half-an-hour!

WIFE: Oh, I like Ben Affleck. He was so cute in THE TOWN. Let’s go see it. What’s it about?

HUSBAND: (reading from synopsis in paper) “The lives of four different men are overturned when they face the grim realities of the current recession and unemployment.”

Husband and wife stare at each other for about five seconds, then:

HUSBAND: Let’s go see FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS instead!

WIFE: Yeah!

You can bet that’s pretty much what’s going on right now in kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms across America. And you can’t exactly blame folks. After all, in these tough times, we go to the movies to escape - not to be reminded of the bleak economic situation we’re in. Hell, I probably would’ve gone to see FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS myself - if I hadn’t promised someone I would review THE COMPANY MEN because she recommended it. (I hope you’re satisfied. You know who you are).

Anyway, as the synopsis in our mock-scene above states, THE COMPANY MEN is indeed about four men whose lives are affected by the shitty economic conditions we currently find ourselves swimming in. With the exception of one dude, these guys are mostly rich executives. They are: (1) Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), flashy mid-level exec who is unexpectedly laid off; (2) Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), kind-hearted high-level exec who thinks of Bobby as a surrogate son but can’t keep him from being laid off and feel’s guilty about that; (3) Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), grumpy sort-of-high-level exec who also faces the axe along with Bobby; and (4) Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner), crusty blue-collar type who runs his own booming drywall business - which technically makes him the most successful of the four.

At any rate, these guys all must grapple with not only lifestyle changes and the hard realities of unemployment, but also their lost sense of self-worth. After all, studies show that American men are the ones who engage in dick-measuring contests the most. And the measuring tape usually comes in the form of status, which grows out of the particular job that they have. How do they measure their dicks when they no longer have jobs? Who will prove to be the survivor and find his way back to employment in one piece? Who will not fare as well? Will la-di-da pretty boy Bobby be forced to work as a drywaller with salt-of-the-Earth no-bullshit Jack?

Well, tune in to this flick to find out. All I’ll say is this: in my book, Jack’s weathered flannel shirt, dirty jeans, and scuffed-up work boots beat an Armani suit and tie - any goddamned day of the year.


BUT, SERIOUSLY: Like I wrote above, most people will likely shun THE COMPANY MEN because it is an all-too-grim reminder of what’s going on in our country this very second. People losing their jobs. Lives being upended. Families being destroyed. THE COMPANY MEN won’t take you away from any of that. If anything it puts you right in the middle of it, and most people won’t want to see it.

Which is a shame, because this movie is actually quite good, with strong performances from everyone concerned. Ben Affleck continues his remarkable comeback and proves himself to be a natural actor with a very likable presence. His character here is much more polished than the guy he played in THE TOWN, and it’s a testament to Affleck’s versatility that he disappears into this role the same way.

Tommy Lee Jones is strong as the humane and altruistic Gene. After Bobby is fired, Gene almost takes it personally, especially because he couldn’t stop it. Gene’s wife ultimately reminds him that he’s not Bobby’s father. This scene captures the essence of the character, and Jones vividly conveys that Gene is someone who values people far above stock market prices.

Chris Cooper also makes an impression as the tragic Phil Woodward. Phil basically typifies that type of American male for whom work has become his sole identifier - and when that is taken away from him, he basically goes into a tailspin. The fact that his wife still makes him leave the house everyday and not come home before 6 PM, just so the neighbors won’t know he was fired, is quite sad - and Cooper plays this pathos without wallowing in it.

Kevin Costner turns in a humbly gracious performance as Jack Dolan, the most down-to- earth of the four main characters. Employing a respectable Boston accent, Costner reminds us here of what brought him to acclaim and stardom in the first place: the uncanny ability to play the guy-next-door, but make him distinctive and memorable at the same time. He also has one of the film’s best lines, delivered after a family dinner when he gives his opinion of Bobby to his sister, who happens to be Bobby’s wife. Just five words, but Costner infuses them with hilarious venom.

As the major female characters, Rosemary DeWitt and Maria Bello are also solid as, respectively: (1) Bobby’s fiercely loyal and pragmatic wife, Maggie; and (2) Sally Wilcox, the conflicted HR exec who despises her role in the firings - but can’t do anything about it. DeWitt and Bello hold their own quite nicely against their male counterparts - and are quite lovely.

All in all, THE COMPANY MEN is a good film that, right now, hits too closely to home for many people. Hopefully, in a few years’ time, when the economy is booming again, this movie will serve as a cautionary tale of what could happen again - if we’re not careful.