Fired Up

24 Jan

These past two years, I’ve never stopped saying how lucky I am. At the end of 2008, I voluntarily left my old job because I’d found a new one at a growing, successful company — one that’s kept on growing. While others lost their jobs or had their paychecks cut, my job remained stable and my salary actually increased. And while many people said 2009 was an awful year, I said the exact opposite. I don’t tell you all this to brag. I tell you because while watching the film The Company Men, I was reminded of just how lucky I am.

As opposed to other films that show the effects of the economy on working class Americans, The Company Men shows what happens to more affluent white-collar people when they lose their jobs. In the film, Ben Affleck plays Bobby, an arrogant young executive at Boston-based global shipping company GTX, who is laid off as a result of downsizing and has a hard time dealing with his changed life. The difficult economic climate also affects his boss, Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), the company’s original employee, and his colleague Phil (Chris Cooper), both of whom try to stop the layoffs and have a tough time adjusting when the axe falls on them too.

Of course, focusing on guys with big houses and fancy cars proves to be a reason why The Company Men isn’t the engaging film it could have been. After all, it’s really hard to have much sympathy for people like Bobby, who stubbornly keep their Porsches and their golf club memberships even though it’s now a struggle to pay the mortgage and college tuition. It takes until halfway into the film for Bobby to get over himself and not live in denial, and that’s why the second half of The Company Men is better than the first. Also, it’s tough to buy into the plot twist that Gene is having an affair with the head of human resources, when he disagrees so strongly with what she’s doing. (Then again, she’s played by Maria Bello, so I guess I do understand.)

But aside from those grievances, The Company Men is not a bad movie. For one thing, it’s marked by fine acting across the board. You do eventually feel sympathy for each one of the guys, and for the family members who are also affected — or at least you feel it for Bobby’s family. (It’s worth noting that Kevin Costner gives a nice, quiet performance as Bobby’s working class brother-in-law, who gives Bobby hope and purpose when no one else will.) Writer/director John Wells (ER) has created a film that illustrates the ridiculousness and emptiness of motivational outplacement counselors, shows the heartbreak that happens when a potential job opportunity doesn’t pan out, and gives voice to the frustration that results when people don’t just lose their job and paycheck, but their whole identity as well. In fact, The Company Men would make a decent double-feature companion for Up in the Air because it too makes an interesting statement about our current economic climate.

Of course, The Company Men won’t be considered a classic like Up in the Air was. But the performances make the film worth seeing, and who knows, maybe it’ll make you feel lucky too. I’m giving The Company Men a B.

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