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DVD Review: THE COMPANY MEN



Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Year: 2010
Cast: Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Tommy Lee Jones, Rosemarie De Witt, Craig T. Nelson
Director: John Wells
Release Date: June 07, 2011
Rating: R for language and brief nudity
Run Time: 01h:44m:30s
Genre(s): drama

"I'm a 37-year-old unemployed losah, who can't support his family." - Bobby (Ben Affleck)

THE COMPANY MEN

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Not even having won an Oscar can cushion the blow of the recession, apparently, according to John Wells' star-studded ensemble piece.

Movie Grade: B

DVD Grade: B-

Put this one on the short list of recession movies—it will make a hell of a double bill with, say, Up in the Air. It's a movie that's trying desperately to be zeitgeisty, but gets in its own way and doesn't really capture the moment—it's an unintentional reminder of how tough it is to make a good office movie, and may in fact be most interesting as a study in how television leaves its imprint.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. The writer and director of the picture, John Wells, was for many years the principal creative force behind E. R., and, for good and for ill, it shows. Wells is excellent and communicating information to us quickly, and at keeping many characters alive in his audience's mind; but you also get the sense that he doesn't trust his own ability to have a single character carry the story. We're left almost without a hero, and there's no denying the episodic nature of the movie, unfortunately reinforced by its hey-let's-put-on-a-show ending.

Times are tough all over, but especially in the shipbuilding business, as the men of GTX, a Boston-based conglomerate, are learning. Craig T. Nelson is the CEO cutting employees and costs (but not his own salary, bonus or stock options) to drive up the stock price; Maria Bello is his bag man, wielding her machete with a smile as she gives GTX lifers their walking papers. First there's Bobby, who sort of has it coming when he comes in on judgment day crowing about his golf game—he's got a huge house and a Porsche and two kids, but he's clearly living paycheck to paycheck. (Are you shocked to learn that it's a movie, in part, about him finding his soul?) He's played by Ben Affleck, who does pretty well ginning up empathy for a character who's really kind of a bastard. (In part that's because if he can hold onto the love of Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays his wife, he must be doing something right.)

We go right on up the food chain, next to Chris Cooper as a sort of GTX Willy Loman—he knows just how challenging it's going to be for a man of a certain age to land on his feet, especially since he's been with one firm for all his professional life. And then the wonderfully hangdog Tommy Lee Jones—not even his surreptitious romance with Bello, nor his lifelong friendship with his boss, can save him and his corner office. One of the problems with the movie, though, is that you get the sense that Wells and his cast don't really understand business, and what goes on in offices, so a lot of this feels like dressup time. They can parrot the talk of the Wall Street Journal or CNBC, but since they don't really get it, they can't really own it. Wells also saddles us with an absurdly hopeful ending, with the hope that heavy industry will make its triumphant return to Boston. Politicians and CEOs have been trotting that one out for years, and it ain't happened yet.

Also on hand, trotting out his Southie accent (about as successful as his Brahmin one from Thirteen Days) is Kevin Costner, as Bobby's brother-in-law—he's a contractor, the personification of hard work and doing things the right way. It's kind of a sappy image of the working man; still, it's nice to see Costner gravitating to interesting material where he's not necessarily at the center of the action. Wells provides a commentary track, in which he's awfully politic about the industry—everybody is wonderful and a pleasure to work with. He says all the right things, but you may not want to listen to that kind of backscratching for two hours. Along with trailers for The King's Speech and Blue Valentine is a fairly standard making-of piece (14m:22s), heavy with clips and on-set interviews with Affleck, Bello, Cooper, Wells and De Witt; also six deleted scenes (7m:16s), just scraps, really, but with an intriguing discarded opening credit sequence. Perhaps most interesting is an alternate ending, in which the saccharine upbeat conclusion of the final cut gives way to a more sobering assessment of how things end up for everybody here. It's not as feel good, that's for sure; I bet it didn't test well.

Posted by: Jon Danziger - June 28, 2011, 11:35 am - DVD Review
Keywords: business, drama, ensemble, boston




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