Movie Review - 'The Company Men' - When The Suits Lose Their Clean White Collars Corporate downsizing leaves three executives jobless and unmoored, and forces one to rethink his values. John Wells' drama lays out the issues a little didactically, but in these times the emotions feel spot-on.
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When 'Company Men' Lose Their Clean White Collars

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When 'Company Men' Lose Their Clean White Collars



When 'Company Men' Lose Their Clean White Collars

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When we go to the movies, we're usually looking to escape our real-world concerns. So it may seem odd that layoffs and a rough economy are the subject of a new Hollywood film. "The Company Men" stars Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper and Kevin Costner in a story about corporate downsizing.

Bob Mondello says it gets things right enough to make audiences squirm.

BOB MONDELLO: Bobby Walker is a sales exec at a shipbuilding company. Played by Ben Affleck, he is living the suburban dream: gorgeous house, golf on weekends, happy family, and a spring in his step as he walks into his office - only to be met with long faces.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Company Men")

Mr. BEN AFFLECK (Actor): (as Bobby Walker) What's going on?

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actress): (as character) Bobby, you know Dick Landry from Legal?

Mr. LANCE GREENE (Actor): (as Dick Landry) The company is consolidating divisions. Difficult decisions had to be made in areas where redundancy surfaced. We've structured a generous severance package for you. Your 12 years with us entitles you to 12 weeks' full pay and benefits.

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Bobby Walker) You're firing me?

Unidentified Woman #1: (as character) Come on, Bobby, sit down.

Mr. GREENE: (as Dick Landry) We're also offering you outplacement services to help you secure your next employment.

MONDELLO: Bobby is among the first to get the news, but lots of heads are rolling. And while no one is happy about that, some are less happy than others -including Gene, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who helped found the company, and who bristles as lawyers argue about how to downsize it.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Company Men")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as character) And two kids will be delighted to have Mommy at home.

Mr. TOMMY LEE JONES (Actor): (as Gene McClary) She's 60. I doubt her kids are still living at home, much less calling her Mommy.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as Paul) The list is still preliminary, Gene.

Mr. JONES: (as Gene McClary) I'm looking, and all I see are people who are over 50 - with enough young ones thrown in to protect us against litigation.

Unidentified Man #2: (as Paul) No, I'm confident that all these dismissals will stand up to outside legal scrutiny.

Mr. JONES: (as Gene McClary) What about ethical scrutiny?

Unidentified Man #2: (as Paul) We're not breaking any laws, Gene.

Mr. JONES: (as Gene McClary) I guess I always assumed we were trying for a higher standard than that, Paul.

MONDELLO: These are, let's note, executives losing their jobs - executives who were pricing stock options as the economy heated up, and who may have been responsible, in part, for it overheating. Their taste for Porsches and pricey antiques makes them a little hard to cozy up to, but the filmmakers acknowledge that even as you're registering it.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Company Men")

Mr. AFFLECK: (as Bobby Walker) I've been out there every day for three months, trying to get a job. I haven't had one offer. I've been to everybody we know, and a lot of people I don't. And I have begged for a lead - anything.

MONDELLO: Bobby's got a blue-collar brother-in-law, played by Kevin Costner, who vents a whole different set of issues.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Company Men")

Mr. KEVIN COSTNER (Actor): (as Jack Dolan) You know, I was reading about your guy, Salinger, in the Globe the other day. It said he made 700 times what the average GTX worker made last year.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actress): (as character) How?

Mr. COSTNER: (as Jack Dolan) What do you think? Is Salinger worked 700 times harder than the welder pounding hot rivets into a tanker hull all day?

MONDELLO: Early this year, when "The Company Men" premiered at the Sundance Festival, some thought it felt like a companion piece to "Up in the Air," the George Clooney picture that tackled RIFs and layoffs in a less down-to-earth way. Perhaps because we've had 10 months of discouraging employment numbers since then, the approach taken in "The Company Men" feels more in tune with today.

Yes, the film is a little didactic as it lays out the issues. But when it comes to the emotional state of those being laid off, of their families and even of those doing the laying off, it gets things demonstrably and unnervingly right.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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