Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Company Men (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Company Men

"The Company Men" is the debut film from famed Tv producer John Wells ("The West Wing" "E.R."). And with his new project, Wells proves his versatility.
"The Company Men" can be seen as a kind of cinematic bookend to "Inside Job", the Academy Award winning  documentary that focused on the economic crisis, narrated by Matt Damon.
This film opens with a haunting montage of luxurious kitchens, gold faucets, Plasma Tvs and multiple sports cars. A catalog of all the king executives' toys before The Fall.  All these material high-end items seem cluttered together in empty suburban rooms like pyramids in a pharaoh's tomb. And I would argue that these moments--punctuated throughout with a sense of irony and ghostly nostalgia---are some of the best in the film. 
This film stars Ben Affleck as Bobby Walker, a square-jawed all-American father who has everything: a spacious house, a Porsche, Patriots football tickets, and lots of cash flow. He is happy, self assured, and even cocky. He practically jogs into work, sliding his folder jauntily along the window. It seems Walker is arriving for play rather than work. After all, Walker was Salesman of the Year for three years running, a white collar shipyard exec.
Then he sits down.
The unthinkable: Walker has lost his job. A result of corporate downsizing.
This can't be happening! Not to Ben Affleck! But it is. And if it can happen to him in this role, it can happen to anyone.
Walker storms, thrusting out his jaw. Affleck has clean cut superhero looks and his character frets his brow with worry. With his chiseled chin, recalling his role in "Hollywoodland", Affleck is  Superman without his cape. He hollers and yells, and worse he insults his heavy set employment counselor. 
One by one, the executives fall. There is  co-founder Gene McClary, (Tommy Lee Jones) Followed by seasoned veteran Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper). Given the stoic whisky face of Jones, the hardbitten Cooper and last but not least, the survivalist nonchalance of Kevin Costner, as the home-builder uncle, I was thinking that this film was a recession-era version of "Space Cowboys". So resolute in solidarity are the men in this film.  But instead of outer space, these three  men battle the inner reaches of selfishness and corporate Ego. Gone are the Porsche cars. Walker moves into his parents' home, and yikes, even his  son's X-box is sold. 
There is one flaw. Not one character really addresses that he might be part of the problem. All the menace seems put on this increasingly faceless company. Even McClary's duplicitous mistress who works in HR (Maria Bello) is released from the guilt of firing Walker, Mclary himself, and Woodward who ultimately commits suicide. 
It is the characterization of these three off-white collar workers that make this film compelling, despite some plot moments that seem phoned in from the satellite office. There is life itself in the sad wrinkles of Jones' McClary, the smoky worm-eyed look of Cooper and in the pensive Kryptonite blows  of Bobby Walker that hit him square in the chest and show on his face. 
Yet, the soul of the film is embodied in the spirit  of creative men who make things, as symbolized by Kevin Costner's role as the carpenter.
"The Company Men" is a call to the city of Boston to move collectively like an American iron freighter to make  products again that we all can solidly  use and, to quote the film, "actually see". 
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