I still remember watching last year's The Fourth Kind during its awards season screening for myself and fellow members of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. What I really remember is being completely and utterly astounded that the folks at Universal Pictures could have seriously considered the film as a potential awards recipient for anything but the Razzie Awards.
While The Company Men is nowhere near the travesty that was The Fourth Kind, it was 2010's awards season head scratcher, a decent flick disguising itself as potential Oscar bait with its all-star cast and relevance to the current economic climate. Written and directed by John Wells, The Company Men never flirts with greatness despite a capable of cast that takes the material considerably farther than Wells' detached and uninvolving script actually deserves.
It'll be interesting to see if the notoriously gifted marketing folks at The Weinstein Company can manage to land some decent box-office numbers for this flick, one of the more realistically painted portrayals of the modern world of big business during an economic downturn. Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is a hotshot sales star for a Boston-based manufacturer who suddenly finds himself laid off when the division he's working for doesn't measure up to stockholder expectations. Before long, he's followed by an aging co-worker (Chris Cooper) and the division head (Tommy Lee Jones), who also just happened to co-found the company alongside the now hatchet-happy CEO (Craig T. Nelson).
Suddenly, Bobby is dependent upon his wife's (a terrific Rosemarie Dewitt) nursing income and the quiet kindness of a brother-in-law (Kevin Costner) who does the right thing because it's the right thing to do.
The Company Men is a weird mixed bag of a film, somehow managing to feel both starkly realistic yet strangely and unnervingly apathetic. Seldom have I been witness to such devastating collapses and felt so little sympathy. While this could be a tad because these folks were living unapologetically high on the hog, more likely it's because Wells' screenplay only manages to create the skeleton of a human drama but never really adds any flesh and bones to it. It's not enough to show what is obviously intended as a condemnation of corporate greed - The Company Men could have been so much more and, in fact, it seems like the entire cast is trying like hell to make something more out of it.
Ben Affleck performs ably for the second time in a year, the first being The Town, a fact that must be some sort of record. While Affleck is front and center here, the real stars of the film are Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones. While his character's storyline is painfully obvious early on, Cooper is simply fantastic as a man struggling to deal with his wounded pride while becoming painfully aware of and bothered by the world that surrounds him. Similarly, Tommy Lee Jones manages to humanize a man we'd normally look at and think "Ha! He got what he deserved." There's always another story, and Jones manages to bring his to life with powerful results. Costner also shines with a decidedly low-key take on Bobby's hard working brother-in-law, a carpenter of modest means whose hard work seems to pay off both financially and in terms of peace of mind.
D.P. Roger Deakins lenses the film beautifully, helping to soften some of Wells's edges and capturing both the harshness of the corporate world and the humanity of those whom we don't always regard as human. Production values are solid throughout across the board.
The Company Men seems unlikely to garner much in the way of awards attention, its story perhaps coming just a bit too close to home for most Americans who have been living this story out in recent years and not quite ready to call it all entertainment. While all the performances here are fine, especially those of Jones and Cooper, Wells never really gives the story any breathing room and a film that could have been a ballsy, scathing looking at corporate America instead feels far too muted to have much of an impact.