The Company Men (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Company Men (2011)

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Now that we're safely out of the economic recession and driving our own luxury Mercedes vehicles to work it just doesn't seem like movies about the economy have the same bit anymore.  Or, to be more accurate, maybe years of repeating the same sad-sack white collar formula is just starting to feel a little stale.  Clooney and Reitman pulled out some pinache for Up In The Air, but similar magic fails to work for this down on your luck drama The Company Men.

This saddened me somewhat, watching the film stretch on to it's inevitable conclusion, because the first twenty minutes held promise.  I enjoy seeing Ben Affleck onscreen, Tommy Lee Jones is dependably excellent, and Chris Cooper proves that he can muster such a wide range of emotions with two little words.  They play Bobby, Jack and Phil (respectively) - three businessmen who do the same thing day after day before a little corporate restructuring throws a wrench in the works.

There's a visual poetry that slowly goes missing as the film progresses.

Bobby is let go and leaves the rest of the office, including longtime employee Phil, nervous as to what fate holds for their jobs.  Jack just sits in his tower, somewhat unwillingly, as he watches his business partner (a nicely utilized Craig T. Nelson) gut the company for stock profits.  All three get caught up in an existential angst of sorts.  Bobby is unable to move on with his life, Phil is paralyzed in fear of his, and Jack has the opulence but doesn't know how to translate it into saving his friends.

Unfortunately, all of these characters are pretty thinly drawn.  I found myself unable to care about Bobby or Phil's fates because they were basically playing the same character on different ends of the age spectrum.  Also, since both of their functions in the film were to be friends with Jack, it felt like they were each playing half a character.  Of the two, we could have left Bobby and axed Phil (poor Phil) and had a much tighter movie since Phil functions primarily to be a grief mop for everyone else.

There are other characters but they don't serve much of a purpose other than to cheer on or provide obvious alternatives to the main three's lifestyles.  Perhaps realizing that there's a dearth of roles for females and black cast members in these kind of white collar movies we get scene after scene of wives fretting (or spending) while Bobby's new ultra-supportive best black friend offers similar strength from the sidelines.  So little effort was put into drawing them out I have to commend them both for trying while at the same time wondering why writer/director John Wells even bothered.

Even though most of my love goes to Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones does the most impressive amount of acting with the smallest movement.

We have characters finding themselves and rediscovering old passions in some fairly standard formula packages.  I will admit that Phil's fate threw me for a loop, but his conclusion reeked more of trying to find some dramatic use for his character instead of genuine trauma.  Even then, viewers familiar with Death of a Salesman (or the many movies it has inspired) won't be surprised about the sad sack businessman's fate.

If it sounds like I'm being fairly harsh on this film, it's mostly because I was disappointed.  The opening twenty minutes or so moved at a fairly languid pace but sustained a nice atmosphere or sad routine between the three men.  There are also quite a few compositions culling inspiration from other office classics that were quite stirring.  So it at least had the potential of being interesting instead of resting on now familiar archetypes.  Archetypes which, I must note, are incredibly well played by our three leads.  Despite the ultimate senselessness of his character, Chris Cooper's Phil is a magnificent study of the wounded ego and Cooper earns our sympathies so strongly with his first appearance.

Sadly, The Company Men was not to my liking.  The ambition is there, but if John Wells had taken a step back to test the strength of his characters, he would have found them as flimsy as the mist they walk through.

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The Company Men (2011)

Written and directed by John Wells.
Starring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones.

Posted by Andrew

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