When Up In The Air came out in 2009, Jason Reitman became the first director to tackle the financial crisis head on with a brutally honest study of one man as a symbol of our increasingly dour zeitgeist. George Clooney's Ryan Bingham -- a professional firer about to get fired -- was both the corporate world's greatest terminator and its greatest victim. In a challenge to popular opinion on topics like the recession and massive layoffs, Reitman's film explored some poignant moralism and fascinating duplicity. The Company Men shares similar DNA -- it's a timely story about a money hungry corporation and the family men it feeds to the wolves in the wake of stock inflation. Yet while The Company Men finds drama in the desperation of guys stripped of their jobs and manhood, it has no heart and affords its "men" little redemption.
Ben Affleck -- fresh off writing, directing, and starring in The Town -- is the shark-suited "company man" at the movie's core. Laid off from the get-go and placed in a work relocation center, Affleck's Bobby Walker finds the going tough without Porsches, country clubs, and a five figure salary. But we do feel bad for him, especially when we learn his company GTX purged half its employees so the CEO (Craig T. Nelson) could increase his share values to half a billion dollars and build brand new headquarters. (Nice, huh.) GTX's only voice of reason is the heavy hearted, adulterer and VP Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones). Chris Cooper, as fellow job-hunter Phil Woodward, is the film's proverbial chopped liver and the character and Cooper's tremendous talents are criminally thrown to the wayside.
On top of feeling tired and distended, The Company Men seemed to fall from a promising start into a glum malaise of woebegone pondering and near-insights. No matter how wise Jones looks and sounds he carries no remedy for a perpetually bummed out Ben Affleck who just can't do devastation. (If the part called for nothing but smiles he would have been tops.) Writer/Director John Wells' script is filled with financial jargon and Kodak moments -- especially between Walker and his you-can-do-it wife Maggie (Rosemary Dewitt) -- which give the film an aura of credibility, but Wells comes to no great conclusions and contemplates nothing beyond the suck-fest of losing one's job.
And it does suck that Walker has to sell his Porsche and start doing carpentry work with his blue collar brother-in-law (Kevin Costner). But in the battle between CEOs and paper pushers it's never as simple as good vs. evil. Reitman's Up In The Air succeeded by making both part of the same societal persona. The Company Men is way to black and white to enlighten, or entertain.