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Ten Word or Less Review: Unemployment sucks.

The despondency and lack of hope that comes with job loss is approached in a direct and honest way in The Company Men.  With an economic downturn not likely to see abatement for several more years, a movie like this seems like it should be ripe fodder for the masses to take in and think upon, but no.  The Company Men is a kind of film which probably hits a little too close to home for a lot of people and dwelling on the direness of unemployment probably doesn’t sound like a winner for a Saturday night movie going experience.  If you can accept the grim subject matter you’re going to find a noble and rewarding movie which may not dazzle, but approaches a difficult subject with a mostly honest perspective.

The Company Men stands as further proof, not that much more was needed, that Ben Affleck is a full-fledged grown up.  After an up and down movie career that reached levels of parody and ridicule by the time he was 30, the newer adult Ben has embraced a resounding level of maturity lately.  In Company he plays Robert, an unapologetic yuppie scumbag making bank and loving every minute of the warped, American dream.  Hot wife, bright kids, cool car, all the works plus some.  Then one day reality takes a hard swing at Robert and floors him.  He finds himself out of work and no longer a master of the universe with an expense account and club membership.  His ego rages, his sense of denial flares and regardless of both, he’s just another asshole out of a job.  Robert is forced to join the mass of humanity out there looking for gainful employment.  He runs up against indifference, cold shoulders and harsh reality as he struggles to keep is family in the unaffordable lap of pseudo-luxury it’s accustomed to.  Paralleling his journey is Chris Cooper as an older co-worker thrown to the wolves in the twilight of a career and Tommy Lee Jones as a top level executive riddled with guilt at the life he leads at the expense of others.

These three seasoned pros turn in mostly magnificent work which honestly reflects the tumultuous state of mind that comes with joblessness.  Affleck is at front as the center of the film.  His character is at first an easily detestable and dismissible shit of a person, but as things become more dire and desperate his character loses his shallowness.  He’s a classic but understandable case of raging male ego struggling mightily with powerlessness that has never been confronted before.  His final grasping’s at stature are pathetic but entirely believable.  Chris Cooper’s part is the saddest of the bunch, an unemployable man hitting his 60’s with generations of people at his backside ready to do the job for cheaper.  His fate seems preordained but honest all the same.  Tommy Lee Jones, playing consistently noble and sad, is the only part that feels respectable but somehow dishonest.   He’s an old school ‘honest day’s pay for honest day’s wage’ kind of guy who grows to loathe his lofty and unwarranted spot in life.  He’s a rich executive with a conscience and while Jones instills the character with a lot of integrity, something about his arch feels like dramatic wish fulfillment.  If guys like this existed the world would probably not be the place it is today.

On the outskirts of the cast are Kevin Costner, Craig T. Nelson, Maria Bello and Rosemarie Dewitt.  Everyone performs tried and true but Dewitt and Costner are the stand outs.  Costner plays Affleck’s blue collar brother-in-law, a strained and contemptuous relationship if there ever was one.  Costner’s scenes are fleeting but hold a lot of under the surface significance.  It plays to Costner’s surprising down to Earth strength.  DeWitt is remarkable as the wife who sees what’s happening long before her ego warped and headstrong husband can.  Here’s hoping Dewitt gardeners more attention because she’s a fetching and compelling presence.  All of these fine performances are guided by John Wells, a longtime producer  of TV (ER, The West Wing) and movies who finally felt compelled to helm a movie for himself.  He’s a sure hand behind the camera who, until an end which feels a little too hopeful, guides his movie with a sure and steady hand.

No audiences watched or sought out The Company Men and it’s a staggering shame we live in an age in which such a topical movie goes mostly unnoticed.  Too grim and poking the wrong nerve at the wrong time for audiences looking for cheap thrills and disposable laughs it seems.  The people who do decide to roll the dice on it will appreciate the experience.  The Company Men feels like a movie which should catch on with time, if enough people champion it’s more than understandable cause.  If that kind of experience is not up your alley, there’s plenty of other fodder out there to drown out the harsh sound of reality.

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