The Company Men
by Jef Burnham
Coming to Blu-ray and DVD on June 7, 2011 from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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It’s hard to sympathize with the central characters in The Company Men as they struggle to cope with being suddenly laid off from their positions in a large corporation. This is not to say that writer/director John Wells (The West Wing, ER) doesn’t do a fair job of establishing the characters or that losing one’s job is an uncommon occurrence that is hard to identify with. After all, in a very timely fashion, The Company Men has been released as the unemployment rate in America hovers somewhere around 9%. It’s simply that the individuals portrayed in the film made more money annually in their company jobs than the average American household pulls in in a handful of years.
And so I ask you: Why should we take pity on Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck)— the company man afforded the most screen time— when he is forced to give up his country club membership and Jaguar? The majority of audiences will likely never set foot in a country club and couldn’t afford a Jaguar if they saved every penny of their wages for three years, myself included. It’s rather audacious of Wells to expect audiences to invest in a character we see refusing to cancel his country club membership to feed his family and berating a woman in an interview for offering him a measly $65K/year job. It takes Bobby half the film to show any real humility, and even when he does start to make sacrifices, it’s almost too late for us to be able to wish him well.
I understand where Wells is coming from, because a character transitioning from a position where he makes $160K a year (what Bobby claims in the end of the film to have been making) to total unemployment would seem to have more inherent drama than, say, the story of someone losing their job at McDonald’s. After all, the losses in the former character’s situation are greater mathematically; but, in truth, the person earning $160K/year should be far less dependant on their weekly paychecks than someone in fast food. That Bobby did not create for himself a considerable savings during his gainful employment at GTX is something for which none of us can really feel sorry for him. Ultimately, however, once Bobby learns to appreciate that which he has rather than that which he lost, we are able to warm up to him and the film builds to a satisfying, if slightly dishonest, conclusion.
The Company Men co-stars Tommy Lee Jones (No Country for Old Men), Chris Cooper (Adaptation), Maria Bello (A History of Violence), Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves), and Rosemarie Dewitt (Rachel Getting Married). In addition, the film was photographed by the Coen Brothers’ long-time collaborator, Roger Deakins. As such, if you want to check out The Company Men, Blu-ray is the preferred format, if for no other reason than Deakins’s beautiful cinematography.
Bonus features include an alternate ending, commentary by Wells, a making-of featurette, and deleted scenes.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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