Sundance: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Chris Cooper are superb in 'The Company Men,' a juicy drama of downsized executives

You know that feeling you had watching the downsizing sequences in Up in the Air — the dread mixed with empathy mixed with outrage mixed with the chilling sensation that anyone could be next, including you? That’s the feeling that extends through every minute of The Company Men, a shrewd, juicy, timely, and terrifically engrossing big-cast Sundance drama that marks the feature directorial debut of John Wells (best known as the executive producer and head writer of ER). Unlike Up in the Air, however, this movie doesn’t offer a glimpse into the plight of tossed-aside middle managers. It is, rather, about the high-rolling executives who’ve pigged out on the capitalist gravy train — the men swimming in stock options and country-club memberships and $500 lunches.

Why, you may ask, should we give a damn if they lose their jobs? Have no fear: That skeptical class resentment is built right into the movie. The Company Men draws on our innate compassion for anyone in trouble, yet at the same time the movie is cannily and intimately aware that the smugly gilded corporate aristocrats it’s about are the very sorts of self-invested, short-term-profit players who helped to get this country in such trouble in the first place. As they watch their jobs disappear, we watch their suddenly traumatized lives with an arresting mixture of sympathy and Schadenfreude. The message of the movie might be: Greedy, scum-sucking executive parasites are people too.

The Company Men traces the tumbling fortunes of GTX (Global Transportation Systems), a Boston conglomerate that grew out of a ship-building company and now finds that it’s got to consolidate, close down divisions, and throw off hundreds of employees in order to have a chance of keeping its profit levels above ground in a cratering economy. The first guy to get the bad news is Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), a sales executive who’s been living the plush suburban dream, complete with silver Porsche, leafy picturesque home, and golfing buddies with whom he smilingly trades insider stock tips. This is one of those roles that’s tailor-made for Ben Affleck’s glib, eager, fast-break charm — his ability to play a “winner” who’s been cruising on too high an altitude and is all but waiting for a fall. Bobby receives 12 weeks severance and assumes that he’ll find another job, which is one reason he won’t let go of his perks; he’s living in a daze of denial. But he’s clever — and, after a while, desperate — enough to make excuses for that denial. “I need to look successful,” he tells his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), who’s got a much more real-world handle on the situation than he does. “I can’t just look like another a–hole with a résumé!” To which she replies: “You are another a–hole with a résumé!”

And is he ever. Wells, who fills the movie with densely up-to-the-minute cutthroat boardroom jabber, uses Bobby’s disastrous job search to create a portrait of the collapsing castle in the air that is America’s depressed and deluded corporate landscape. Bobby isn’t alone, either. Chris Cooper, exuding the weary toughness of an old mule, is a veteran executive who gets the ax as well — and discovers that, pushing 60, he might as well be applying for jobs from a retirement home. Tommy Lee Jones, as the idealistic but dried-up senior manager who thinks that none of this can happen to him, is on hand to deliver eloquent testimony to the solid, manufacturing- based America that globalization helped to wither away. Wells is a sensational writer; the dialogue pings, and often stings, especially when Affleck’s Bobby is submitting to the degradation of his increasingly low-wage job interviews. But Wells also proves an artful director in the Tony Gilroy/Jason Reitman mode of acerbic realism.

The Company Men does have its soft, homiletic side. Bobby, with the mortgage payment due, goes to work as a carpenter for his honest-prole brother-in-law, played by Kevin Costner with gruff, gone-to-seed nobility. We’re a little too aware that Bobby is opening his eyes to What Really Matters In Life. Yet for most of this superbly observed movie, Wells isn’t just crafting glorifed TV-episode lessons. He’s a real storyteller, and The Company Men, I have no trouble saying after just two days at Sundance, is destined to be one of the talked-about highlights of the festival.

More from Owen Gleiberman at Sundance 2010:
Sundance 2010 documentaries: Casino Jack and the United States of Money; Smash His Camera; Restrepo
Howl and Nowhere Boy: The fascinating early days of Allen Ginsberg and John Lennon
Sundance 2010: Change you can believe in?

More from EW at Sundance 2010:
Sundance 2010: Exclusive star portraits from the EW photo studio


Comments (14 total) Add your comment
  • rocknmovies

    As a Ben Affleck fan, I am happy to read a good review of this movie and of his performance. Because Ben can be a good actor with a good director.

  • Annie

    I agree with you! In the right hands, Ben can be amazing (ie. “Hollywoodland”).

  • Jose

    Cannot wait for this movie

  • Corinne

    I loved it. Ben Affleck was great in this.

  • Linda L

    I probably would have passed on this movie but your review really makes me want to see this movie. It does have a good cast. I love your line “Greedy, scum-sucking executive parasites are people too.”

  • Clayton

    Sounds really great. Nice article, can’t wait

  • Sam

    It’s not that Ben needs a good director; I think he needs a good script, and for a while he was picking really bad projects. I’m so glad he’s picking more interesting, deeper roles, because I think he’s actually a more than decent actor (and yay for Chris Cooper, who can never go wrong in my book). I’m interested to see Ben evolve as a director, too.

  • MommaB

    And to think I was of the opinion that Casey had gotten more of the acting chops and Ben belonged behind the camera – (Gone Baby Gone – Amazing film!) It’ll be nice to see Ben in a meaty role again – Plus he just gets better looking with age and domesticity!

  • Jim

    Ben Affleck was also terrific in a superb, underrated film called Changing Lanes. Sam Jackson also was terrific in it.

    • rocknmovies

      You are right. Changing Lanes was excellent, and Ben was good in it.

  • Jon

    I wouldn’t have been interested in this movie — but your review has me intrigued. Ben Affleck + John Wells doesn’t inspire confidence. Also, nice use of “homiletic”!

  • Angela Woolsey

    Yes! I decided to keep an eye on this film when I first heard about it, mainly because Ben Affleck’s in it though the rest of the cast and the story are also intriguing, so the positive reviews I’ve been hearing are a great relief. I saw – and loved – Up in the Air, but though the two movies seem to deal with similar themes, hopefully they’re different enough to avoid too many comparisons. This is especially nice because it seems like Ben Affleck is continuing his comeback streak (this year, he is also directing, writing and starring in The Town). Now, this is definitely one of my most anticipated movies for 2010.

  • Ethan

    Excellent writing (not at all surprising).

    I agree with other readers – Ben Affleck is great in good roles. Hollywoodland, Bounce, back to his earlier 90s indie work in Chasing Amy and Going All The Way. I even loved him in Dogma – he’s like a 20-years-younger George Clooney when he wants to be.

  • Jennifer

    I am very grateful that I have discovered your posts, thanks for all the great info.

Add your comment
The rules: Keep it clean, and stay on the subject - or we may delete your comment. If you see inappropriate language, e-mail us. An asterisk (*) indicates a required field.

When you click on the "Post Comment" button above to submit your comments, you are indicating your acceptance of and are agreeing to the Terms of Service. You can also read our Privacy Policy.

Latest Videos in Movies

Advertisement
Entertainment Weekly's EW.com | Entertainment News | TV News | TV Shows | Movie, Music and DVD Reviews

Photo Galleries

Top Stories

Latest News

TV Recaps

From Our Partners

More from Our Partners

Latest News

Entertainment Weekly's EW.com | Entertainment News | TV News | TV Shows | Movie, Music and DVD Reviews

Photo Galleries

Top Stories

Latest News

TV Recaps

From Our Partners

More from Our Partners

Most Commented

PopWatch | EW.com

Blog

PopWatch

See how Broadway's screwball hit On the Twentieth Century brought sets and costumes to life

Comments +

On the Twentieth Century, a lesser-revived Comden, Coleman & Green musical about a manic train journey from Chicago to New York City, opened in mid-March to the kind of reviews that almost guarantee Tony Awards conversation—particularly surrounding its leading lady, Kristin Chenoweth.

But it’s not just Cheno and co-star Peter Gallagher who make Twentieth Century tick. They keep the show chugging along like a luxury locomotive with the help of two other Broadway icons: set designer David Rockwell and costumer William Ivey Long.

Read Full Story

April Fools' Day 2015: The best pranks around the internet

Comments +

It’s April Fools’ Day, which means—much to John Oliver’s chagrin—that the internet is full of pranks (and even more untrustworthy than usual). 

We’ll be gathering the best pranks we find online today, ranging from Google’s simple-but-jarring backwards text to IGN’s fake Back to the Future and Fast & Furious trailer. Check back throughout the day for updates.

Read Full Story

Play Pac-Man around the world in Google Maps

Comments +

Pac-Man is already such a worldwide phenomenon, but now one of the most famous video games of all time is available to play on every computer through Google Maps.

Read Full Story

American Idol alum Justin Guarini on how he became Diet Dr. Pepper’s Lil' Sweet

Comments +

Fans of American Idol may recognize Lil’ Sweet, the zazzy little—very little—star of Diet Dr. Pepper’s new campaign, as season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini. But how did it all happen?

Guarini called up EW to tell the story.

Read Full Story

Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz gives relationship advice in 'Ask a Grown Man': 'Go ahead and kiss'

Comments +

Adam Horovitz—who Beastie Boys fans know as Ad-Rock—is the latest grown man featured in Rookie’s “Ask a Grown Man” series, which features famous males doling out advice on topics ranging from first kisses to perpetual insecurity.

Read Full Story

Batman: Arkham Knight-branded PlayStation 4 announced

Comments +

Batman fans may have to wait a little longer for Batman: Arkham Knight after the game’s recent delay, but Sony is making the wait worth it for those who were also looking to pick up a PlayStation 4.

Read Full Story

New Zealand launches a (fake) Netflix competitor called Nitflux

Comments +

Netflix has a new (fake) competitor: New Zealand’s Nitflux, which has all of about 10 choices of movies and TV to stream.

Read Full Story

Genius Florida hotel blasts 'The Circle of Life' to wake up spring breakers

Comments +

Some people wake up to iPhone alarms, others to the sun. But the guests at Panama City Beach’s Holiday Inn wake up to something much more joyful: The Lion King’s “The Circle of Life.”

The Florida hotel blasts “The Circle of Life” every morning at 11 a.m. during spring break, according to Peopleto revive hungover college students after a night of partying. Watch the routine below.

Read Full Story

David Beckham stars in a new underwear ad... with James Corden?

Comments +

James Corden might have found another career path if his gig at The Late Late Show doesn’t pan out. If this new skit’s any indication, he has a shot in the modeling world. Corden and retired soccer star David Beckham created a mock ad for a sham underwear line, for which the two were spokesmen.

Read Full Story

Play a memorable Super Mario 64 level online, in HD -- for free

Comments +

Super Mario 64 is one of the animated plumber’s most famous adventures, and also one of the most important games in the medium’s history. The Nintendo platformer helped set the benchmark for how many 3D games would be designed and played, from the late ’90s to today.

And while its gameplay certainly hasn’t aged poorly, the game’s visuals have—which is why someone decided to give Super Mario 64 a new sheen of HD paint.

Read Full Story
Page:

More from Our Partners

From Our Partners

TV Recaps

TV Recaps | EW.com

TV Recaps

More from Our Partners

Powered by WordPress.com VIP
Entertainment Weekly's EW.com | Entertainment News | TV News | TV Shows | Movie, Music and DVD Reviews

Photo Galleries

Top Stories

Latest News

TV Recaps

From Our Partners

More from Our Partners