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Monday, May 23, 2011

THE COMPANY MEN -- DVD review by porfle

If you've ever been laid off from your $130,000-a-year job and had to sell your Porsche just to pay your golf club dues, you'll really identify with Ben Affleck's character in THE COMPANY MEN (2010).  If, however, you don't quite fall within that particular poverty bracket, then this film serves as a mildly entertaining look at how the other half fails.

Hot-shot young exec Bobby Walker (Affleck) gets pink-slipped along with hundreds of other chumps when his high-profile company GTX downsizes in order to make greedy CEO James Salinger (old fave Craig T. Nelson, POLTERGEIST) even richer.  Trouble is, Bobby's having trouble gearing down his extravagant lifestyle (big house, sports car, etc.) even though it's suddenly sucking him dry of every last precious cent. 

His loyal wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and sensitive son Drew try to help him learn to be more frugal while he searches fruitlessly for another job, but Bobby's pride is at stake.  It's actually a bit hard to feel sorry for him since he's such a dope, an aspect of the character which Affleck plays very well.  (Okay, that was a cheap shot.)

Also kicked off the gravy train is 30-year company vet Phil, whom we do feel sorry for because Chris Cooper is just so darn good, and because it's even harder for him to find another job because of his age (in a deleted scene that recalls Albert Brooks' LOST IN AMERICA, he's reduced to applying as a pizza delivery man).  Cooper's fun to watch and THE COMPANY MEN is most effective when his character is onscreen being heartrendingly pathetic.

Rounding out this roster of rejects is Tommy Lee Jones as Gene McClary, Salinger's long-time partner, whose main failing is that he has a heart.  Yearning for the old days when employees were treated with respect, Gene's vocal opposition to rampant downsizing gets him into hot water with the big cheese and finally lands him on the street as well.  Jones brings his usual hang-dog style to the role and is even more laidback here than in the MEN IN BLACK flicks.  MILF-tastic Maria Bello plays GTX's hatchet woman who is also having an affair with Gene, which places his sense of values in even further conflict. 

The story, which ambles along in a rather dry style that rarely hits any really interesting peaks, is a steady succession of "fail" for its main characters as their once-lofty station in life sinks into a morass of chronic unemployment and reality-check job interviews.  Bobby's desperation finally leads him to accept a job helping his blue-collar brother-in-law Jack (a laconic Kevin Coster) install drywall, giving me a chance to identify with him for once as he gets his first taste of manual labor.  Wait, did I say "identify with"?  I meant "laugh at."

From glancing at the trailer, I got the impression that these guys were going to start their own upstart company and take on the big boys at their own game, but nothing this upbeat or fanciful occurs.  Which, to writer-director John Wells' credit, makes for a more realistic story. Nevertheless, it isn't a lot of fun to watch unless you enjoy seeing some once-successful shlubs scraping bottom.

The DVD from Anchor Bay and the Weinstein Company is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a director's commentary, an alternate ending, deleted scenes, and the featurette "Making 'The Company Men.'"

Affleck is well-cast as a shallow jerk who must learn that there's no shame in not being a gold-plated success.  Cooper, as the film's most hopeless casualty, and DeWitt, as Bobby's wise, supportive wife, give the story most of its heart.  Jones, with his comfortable-old-shoe persona, gives us hope that not every corporate executive is a misanthropic creep.  THE COMPANY MEN offers us a dispiriting (save for a final dash of optimism), intermittently interesting, but rarely all that involving look at some guys who get knocked off their perch and tumble downhill reaching for something to grab onto, lest they end up way down here with the rest of us. 

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