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

Your classic Tamagotchi lives on in
Apple Watch, iPhone app

Comments +

While your original Tamagotchi may be long gone—a distant but beloved memory of a portable, virtual pet from the past—a new Apple app is giving users a chance to relive those glory days.

Bandi Namco launched the Tamagotchi Classic app for iPhones and iPads earlier in April, and this week made the app available for the Apple Watch. The app evokes the original Tamagotchi devices, allowing players to interact with a virtual version of the original physical toy, along with an app mode that takes away the plastic veneer.

Read Full Story

This week's cover: Rebel Wilson leads the
Bellas in Pitch Perfect 2

Comments +

The opening scene of Universal’s highly anticipated sequel to the 2012 college a cappella comedy features the now-world-famous Barden Bellas performing for President Obama. Wilson’s self-assured Fat Amy descends from the rafters in Cirque du Soleil-like trapeze silks as if to perform an acrobatic sequence à la Pink. Unfortunately, the silks rip, Amy’s pants split, she flips upside down, and she delivers an epic wardrobe-malfunction that comes to be referred to as “Muffgate.”

Read Full Story

Mega Man spiritual successor, Mighty No. 9, coming this fall

Comments +

Fans of classic Mega Man games have something to look forward to this year, as Mighty No. 9 is officially set for launch in September.

Read Full Story

Just Cause 3 trailer looks like Furious 7 in a video game

Comments +

The gameplay trailer for Just Cause 3 is filled with so many car explosions, plane dives, and general destruction, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a trailer for a Furious 7 video game. All it’s missing is the family.

The new trailer for Avanlanche Studios and Square Enix’s Just Cause 3 showcases protagonist Rico Rodriguez raising hell across the island of Medici as he fights to take down General Di Ravello. 

Read Full Story

Five Nights at Freddy's 4 coming this October

Comments +

Freddy is coming back, and he looks like he’s in pretty bad shape.

Five Nights at Freddy’s 4: The Final Chapter has been announced and is set for an Oct. 31 release later this year. A teaser image for the game has been uploaded to developer Scott Cawthon’s website, depicting Freddy. The image offers little more than a title and a release date, but the title suggests this will be the last outing for Freddy.

Read Full Story

Exclusive: Not a Hero developers preview BunnyLord and the game's crazy cast

Comments +

When one of the lead characters of your game is an anthropomorphic bunny, you’re bound to have a cast full of interesting characters. And in that regard, Roll7’s Not a Hero does not disappoint.

Devolver Digital has released an exclusive new look behind the scenes of its upcoming colorful, chaotic shooter, highlighting the cast, both in the game (Steve, Stanley, BunnyLord, and more) and out, including producer Simon Bennett and director Thomas Hegarty.

Read Full Story

Guillermo del Toro's Silent Hills video game with Norman Reedus has been canceled

Comments +

Sorry, P.T. — The Playable Teaser fans: The potential for Silent Hills is no more.

Konami confirmed to EW that Silent Hills, in the state it was conceived by producers Guillermo del Toro and Hideo Kojima with The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus starring in the game, has been canceled.

Read Full Story

Go back to the future in the Call of Duty: Black Ops III trailer

Comments +

After Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare gave the franchise quite the high-tech upgrade, the next entry in the series is continuing that trend with Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

Activision revealed the latest game in the first-person shooter franchise, along with a release date—Nov. 6, 2015.

Read Full Story

Batman gets a little help from his friends in Batman: Arkham Knight trailer

Comments +

Taking on every major villain in Gotham can be a difficult task, even for the Caped Crusdaer himself. So it never hurts to have a few friends along to help.

The new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer, titled “All Who Follow You,” reveals that Batman won’t be alone in his latest fight. Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing all pop up to assist Batman in the fight against the Scarecrow, Two-Face and the rest of Gotham’s worst.

Read Full Story

Game of Thrones TV Book Club: Sansa! Ramsay! Talking the big changes in 'High Sparrow'

Comments +

Welcome back to the Game of Thrones TV Book Club, a discussion space for Thrones viewers who have also read the five books (so far) of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.

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