Sunday, February 6, 2011

Paragraph Movie Reviews: The Company Men

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

It's difficult to make an entertaining film about the recession and people losing their jobs. It's likely impossible to make a feel-good one about those subjects. But this movie is proof that they can be the basis for an engaging, interesting story that brings about excellent performances. Maybe it's because I don't work in a particularly white collar industry so I had enough disconnect not to get caught up in what could easily be a very bleak and depressing look at current corporate reality, but I was more fascinated and intrigued to learn exactly what happens to these guys when they get fired and must move on with their lives. I was concerned that all the business language and conflict centered around stuff above my pay grade both intellectually and in terms of my actual pay grade, but writer/director John Wells showed good command and restraint in not letting it become overwhelming, while the cast communicated the complex stuff well. Ben Affleck was the perfect casting choice for the lead here; he plays smug but vulnerable really well and goes back and forth perfectly from cocky denial about his situation after being fired to impotent rage over not being able to find a new job or keep his creature comforts. He really takes you on a journey of being frustrated by his inability to adapt, sympathetic to his setbacks, and ultimately rooting for him; great character work. Tommy Lee Jones is better than I've maybe ever seen him (to be fair I haven't seen most of his better movies) as the earnest executive who experiences survivor's guilt after the first round of layoffs. The inner conflict Jones is able to convey with a look is impressive and his verbal sparring matches with Craig T. Nelson--a force as the company founder looking out for the bottom line--are a delight to watch. Rosemarie DeWitt is very strong and matches Affleck really well as his strong-willed wife, making for some great scenes where she both provides comfort and kicks his ass; I only wish she hadn't gone for a Boston accent, as it comes and goes, on the whole isn't great, and mostly just distracts. Chris Cooper doesn't get as much screen time as everybody else, but makes the most of what he gets as a paranoid senior exec who avoids the first round of cuts. The worst thing I can say about Maria Bello and Kevin Costner is that they were the weakest links of a very strong ensemble. There were also so many shots that will stay with me, from Cooper walking a graveyard of empty desks after closing time to Afflect lingering on the final boxes he carries out of his sold house. Just a technically and dramatically well-done and compelling piece of work about very tricky subject matter--I really dug it.


Oyboy said...

Regarding most of Tommy Lee Jones' better movies, might I recommend you begin with the classic, "Under Siege." An absolute tour de force performance.

Ben Morse said...

I still always think of him as Two-Face. It's a terrible disservice to a fine actor.