Film Review: The Company Men

The 2008 financial crisis was tough on everyone. Particularly the upper-middle class white (and token black) man, or so The Company Men would have you believe.

The GTX Corporation must downsize in order to remain profitable during the 2008 financial crisis. One of the casualties is Bobby Walker, a married 30-something year old with two children. The impact of his sudden unemployment takes a huge toll on both the family’s financial situation and Bobby himself…

The Company Men is a valiant effort to create a contemporary drama that would resonate with its audience, particularly in America. However, the film is let down by its very straightforward characters who perform according to type instead of revealing any ingenuity. The Company Men aims for realism in its depiction of the turmoil of losing a job during a recession. It achieves this to a certain extent, but the characters are too polarised in the stereotypical good guy and bad guy categories. There is little grey area; instead the turmoil of the suffering is indulged while the decisions of the ‘evil’ corporation head are glossed over. Moreover, the outcomes for all the main characters are fairly predictable.

Written and directed by John Wells, The Company Men has a clear agenda. Wells aims to exhibit how the financial crisis affected employees who were laid off with little or no notice. Bobby’s life is turned upside down when he loses his job, but he realises the impact said job had on his life and that of his family. The Company Men elevates certain ideals over others in quite a simplistic way. Manual labour and manufacturing is preferred over white collar jobs, and corporations are implicitly bad while those who have made their way up the career ladder are commended. Bobby’s brother-in-law Jack (played by Kevin Cosner) espouses the virtues of an honest job and an honest wage, yet things are rarely as simple as this. And that is one of the mistakes that The Company Men makes. The other is to try and illicit sympathy for a character that enjoys a charmed life before he is made redundant. Rather than face real poverty, Bobby gripes about losing membership to the golf club. Thus, it is difficult to care too much about the financial woes of a character that has a more comfortable existence than most audience members.

Roger Deakins’ cinematography is excellent, as ever. Performances are good all round, with Ben Affleck well cast as lead Bobby. In particular, Tommy Lee Jones conveys the inner turmoil of his character Gene very well.

Perhaps most surprising about The Company Men is its inexplicable 15 rating. Otherwise, the drama is earnest but problematic.