Is it possible to feel sorry for a guy who loses his Porsche? During a time when so many Americans have problems just paying the mortgage, how you answer that question may have something to do with your ability to appreciate "The Company Men." The serviceable drama, a timely piece about the downwardly mobile, strikes a chord and features an accomplished ensemble cast. Award winners Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper play white-collar types who live well and in denial until their multinational transportation conglomerate is hit by recession.
Just last week, the Wall Street Journal featured a compelling article about how many higher-level laid-off workers still can't find jobs or are forced to accept lower-paying new jobs far below their skill levels. This is what happens to these company men as their CEO (Craig T. Nelson) pockets millions and everyone else but him suffers. The executives follow different paths, trying to survive pending unemployment or underemployment.
It wraps up predictably in a happy-ish ending that rings a false note. The characters you expect to crumble from the opening scenes and those you expect to triumph do just that. But before the last half-hour, the narrative offers up sympathetic portrayals and a behind-closed-doors glance at the personal cost of the nation's economic decline on the formerly entitled. It also offers up broader context, with scenes about our former glory as a manufacturing powerhouse and shortsighted boardroom choices in today's deteriorated climate.
'The Company Men'
|If you go|
|» Rating: 3 out of 5 stars|
|» Stars: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner|
|» Director: John Wells|
|» Rated R for language and brief nudity|
|» Running time: 103 minutes|
Renowned television creator John Wells ("ER," "The West Wing") makes his feature film debut as a writer-director here. His piece cuts between the fates of hotshot sales manager Bobby Walker (Affleck, again with a thick Boston accent), his division boss Gene McClary (Jones), and their veteran colleague Phil (Cooper).
The emphasis is on Bobby and his endlessly supportive wife, Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt), as their family struggles with incremental lifestyle surrender. The first big humiliation for the newly jobless protagonist comes when his blue-collar brother-in-law (well-played by Kevin Costner in a small, but crucial, role) offers him a construction job. But it won't be long before the humbled Bobby realizes that he would do anything to meet his responsibilities as a husband and father.
Even with such moments of nobility, no single performance stands out strongly over the others in a substantive, but not deeply emotional, depiction.