While it may not have quite the quotability of Glengarry Glen Ross, John Wells’ first movie is a very modern and equally depressing tale of corporate downsizing and CEO tyrants.
Ben Affleck continues his renaissance as Bobby walker, a middle-tier exec who’s given the past 12 years of his life to the GTX Corporation, only to fall foul of the first round of recession-fuelled, shareholder-pleasing redundancies.
His corporate seniors Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) and Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) are also standing on shaky ground, ruthless CEO James Salinger (Craig T Nelson) being more concerned about his $600m bonus than the team that helped build his riches.
At first, it’s hard to find sympathy for these characters as they wrestle with the loss of their country-club memberships and Porsche leases. But as walker’s arrogance is replaced with pragmatism and his Italian suits with wrangler jeans and work boots, the subtle shift from incredulous to chastened is skilfully navigated by wells (as both writer and director) and his consummate cast.
Despite the movie’s ongoing commentary on the economic crisis (snatched radio/TV clips, the ramming-it-home end titles), The Company Men is more about what makes a man a man, about what’s important in life. Where does the job end and the person begin? Can they be separated? What is success?
The answers may not be a huge surprise, but the journey is well worth it. What does surprise is how this thoughtful, timely and intelligent take on the human cost of the world’s economic woes has failed to stir up any awards buzz. Someone should be fired…
Ben Affleck does a fine job of playing a man without one in a compulsive cautionary tale for would-be Trumps and Gekkos.