It’s all comes down to perspective.
I’ve been catching bits and pieces of the Meryl Streep/Alec Baldwin Rom-Com It’s Complicated on cable lately and about the only thing that stays with me afterwards is the preponderance of beautifully lit, artfully composed shots of high end kitchen appliances and California-casual furniture. Turn off the sound and the film plays like porn for the HGTV set.
The Company Men begins with many similar shots of manicured lawns and glistening countertops, but what follows throws it all in a very different light. This film takes place in the immediate aftermath of the financial market free-fall that came to a head in September 2008. Bobby (Ben Affleck), Phil (Chris Cooper) and Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) are all executives at a large corporation that demands unreasonable growth levels despite the changing economic climate. This means cutting expenses and the quickest way to do this is by laying-off mid to high-level executives. The film then follows these three men, all in different stages of their careers with different familial obligations and demands, as they attempt to navigate their way through a very, very different world. And all of a sudden a brief shot of a gleaming stainless steel panini press takes on a weight and significance that speaks volumes.
As written and directed by TV veteran John Wells (ER, West Wing), The Company Men is as smart and thoughtful a movie about the current economic climate as I’ve seen. Unlike 99% of film and television, it doesn’t shy away from the real numbers behind the lives lead by its men and woman. Tommy Lee Jones’ presence comes with a certain built-in gravitas, but the look on his face when he eyes the $15,000 price tag on the end table his wife has just purchased says everything that needs to be said. Wells wisely allows his characters' actions to speak louder than their words and speechifying is kept to a pleasant minimum. Bobby’s blue-collar brother-in-law Jack (Kevin Costner) has a few all-too-obvious comments early on about jobs being shipped overseas, but even he’s allowed to settle in and his relationship with Bobby changes and grows in ways that are both true to the men and their situations. And each time I expected the film to take a turn towards an easy, neat resolution it veered just a little more off its expected course. Perhaps that course is a bit too melodramatic when it comes to the ultimate fate of Chris Cooper’s Phil, but the film’s ‘happy’ ending feels honest and earned. We could do with a few more films that deal so honestly and intelligently with such grown-up subject matter