The economic downturn that has engulfed this country since 2008 shows some signs of letup, but with the unemployment rate still hovering close to 10 percent (and that is not counting college graduates who have been unable to find a job or those who are working at minimum wage jobs despite holding sheepskins), these are tough times for a lot of folks.
The topic of job loss was tackled a year ago in the terrific film, “Up In The Air,” but the thrust of the movie was from George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham character’s point of view whose consulting job was to lay off workers whose clients were too cowardly to handle the confrontation themselves.
“Up In The Air” is a lighthearted comedy compared with “The Company Men.” In this film the focus is squarely on those who have lost their jobs and the economic and psychological scars that unemployment causes. This is clearly not escapist entertainment.
“The Company Men” follows the lives of three key workers of Boston-based GTX Corporation: Bobby Wagner (Ben Affleck), a 37-year-old sales hotshot with an MBA degree who drives a Porsche and belongs to an exclusive Brookline country club; Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper), a thirty year veteran who started out on the assembly line at the company’s shipbuilding division and is now an executive; and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), a senior VP who helped found the company along with his old college roommate and best friend, Jim Salinger (Craig T. Nelson).
As is frequently the case, Bobby does not anticipate getting the ax when he is called into a meeting with human resources vice president, Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello). While he is understandably angry at his employer of the last dozen years, he is not worried about finding another job. Anger quickly turns to despair however when months go by and he gets just one cursory interview with a firm that wants to move him to Little Rock for half of his salary. Economic realities force him to sell his home and have his wife and kids move in with his parents.
Phil Woodward survives the first round of company layoffs but he knows that he is on borrowed time. When he does receive his pink slip, he is anything but philosophical. Pushing 60, he is told by a job counselor to dye his hair, eliminate dates of employment on his resume as well as any reference his time in Vietnam as a serviceman.
Gene McClary is the second-in-command at GTX and has no financial worries. As is often the case with A-listers, money is not his motivator. He is depressed watching his division being slowly shredded by his old buddy, and current GTX chief executive officer, Jim Salinger. He treasures his friendships with his co-workers and is proud that his company has been able to support them and their families over the years.
Screenwriter and director John Wells has written a poignant film that thankfully steers clear of placing blame on either the Fox News or MSNBC crowd. You don’t have to be a Democrat or Republican to be angry about the fact this country’s manufacturing base has shriveled almost to the point of extinction.
Wells also addresses the issue of unfathomably high compensation for too many CEOs in these hard times. “Did a CEO work 700 times harder than the average worker at his company?” a character here asks rhetorically.
Nelson is brilliant as the CEO Jim Salinger whose salary is $22 million and whose main incentive is keeping GTX stock price high even if it is at the expense of those who have given their lives in service to his company. Salinger won’t give up a single perk even as heads are rolling.
Conservatives will certainly cheer on Wells’ trumpeting of family values. Bobby’s wife and kids offer full support and are willing to give up needless frills. Phil’s wife is ashamed to tell anyone that her husband lost his job and orders him not to come him before six o’clock and that is a clear foreboding of tragedy. Gene flashes a priceless look of disgust when his wife wants to know if she can take the corporate jet down to Palm Beach for the weekend after he tells her about the latest headcount reduction.
“The Company Men” is a thoughtful, well-acted film that sugarcoats very little. Don’t miss it.