Actor/director/producer/writer Ben Affleck is a guy who grows on you. In his directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” I was stunned by his talent. Prior to that, his acting ability and choices left me cold (Think “Gigli” and “Jersey Girl”). In the new film, “The Company Men,” Affleck proves that he can be as brilliant in front of the camera as he is behind it.
The film’s storyline is an all-too-familiar one in today’s economy: corporate downsizing. Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a 37-year old hot-shot corporate executive who’s got it all. When he suddenly gets fired from his six-figure salaried job, his world falls apart. It gets so bad that he’s forced to move his family out of his mansion and into his parents’ home.
Bobby’s not the only one to get axed. Phil Woodward (the excellent Chris Cooper), a 30-year veteran with the company, and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), top executive and co-founder of the business, also receive their walking papers. CEO and Gene’s “best friend” (Craig T. Nelson) becomes the guru of greed when we realize the layoffs weren’t meant to keep the company afloat but to keep stock prices high in a bid to restructure.
One might pose the question: Does “The Company Men” qualify as entertainment in this stormy climate of foreclosures and high unemployment? And the answer is yes, if you appreciate fine actors giving it their all. Affleck (who was also terrific in “The Town” last year), Cooper (who received an Oscar for “Adaptation”) and Jones (who received an Oscar for “The Fugitive”) are the guys who make this film great. But the gals involved soar as well. Maria Bello (“The Cooler”) is sexy slick as the corporation’s purveyor of pink slips. And Rosemarie DeWitt (“Rachel Getting Married”) shines as Bobby’s loyal wife, providing the emotional glue and hope that keeps the family together.
I’m not certain that “The Company Men” can make us feel sorry for wealthy people who lose everything. Its message seems to be on a more universal level, one that ponders the concept that sometimes our own self-importance may, in fact, be fictitious. It also tells us to be aware. You may not be that which you do.