Brandon's Sundance Review: John Wells' The Company Men
by Brandon Lee Tenney
January 24, 2010
Television staple John Wells makes his feature writing and directorial debut with his timely, socially harrowing drama The Company Men. Starring Ben Affleck as Bobby Walker, Tommy Lee Jones as Gene McClary, and Chris Cooper as Phil Woodward, the film is centered around these three men as they attempt to survive after a devastating round of corporate downsizing. We see just how losing their jobs affects their families, their psyche, and the community at large. It's as terrifying a film as I've seen. Well's nearly pitch-perfect screenplay captures the utter bleakness of our current economic recession and how it's effecting the people who can't afford a golden umbrella. It's a measured, taught exploration of the dichotomy of what one must do to survive and one's overbearing pride. It's a heartbreaking thesis on one's isolation amongst so many others. It's a film of staggering importance.
The three leading men (Affleck, Jones, and Cooper) all turn out splendid performances. Their characters are deep and real and all of them are able to bring what is ostensibly an internal turmoil to the forefront of the film's exterior. They're joined by a wonderful supporting cast including Craig T. Nelson, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, and Rosemarie DeWitt, all of who are great. It's the script, though, that causes The Company Men to shine so brightly. Beside a bit of uncharacteristic optimism at the close of the film that rings false and out of place, the film hits every beat with truth. The interwoven stories, the consequences and emotions and thematic explorations are all so rich that when these characters feel, you feel. And there's a lot to be felt.
The Company Men is, above all, an important addition to the current economic/sociological conversation. I've discussed my feelings about how this recession (and my generation's response to it) is effecting us in very tragic ways. It's wonderful to see such artists as Jason Reitman and now John Wells tackle this issue and comment on it. Though only akin to Up in the Air due to both of their commentaries on the process and aftermath of corporate downsizing, The Company Men could be considered a companion piece. It's the story of those who are fired, instead of the ones doing the firing. This scenario and these themes (survival vs. pride, isolation in society, starting anew during middle-age) are sure to crop up much more often in the coming years. For now, The Company Men is in good company itself. It's a story that demands to be told and one that's told superbly.
Brandon's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10