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Film

The Company Men

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The Company Men

Directed by John Wells

Opens Feb. 4

Head salesman Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) had a great morning on the golf course and practically whistles while he walks into a meeting in a very quiet conference room in the opening scenes of The Company Men. “Who died?” he asks his stone-faced team. Minutes later he’s fired by tight-lipped Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) and, astonished, packs a box in anger and looks as shell-shocked as his wife does when she catches him grilling on the back deck in the afternoon, home early for what looks the first time.

Walker is one of three “company men” fired from the GTX Corporation during an overall purge in this meditation on the current economy’s recession, written and directed by John Wells. Walker represents the young but established white-collar earner with a young family, a huge mortgage, and a leased Porsche. Walker reluctantly takes advantage of the job placement services offered in his severance package with it’s mortifying “the Tiger” mantra—“I will win. Why? Because I have faith, courage, enthusiasm”—but there are a million MBAs out there looking for the same jobs. His wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) offers to talk to her contractor brother Jack (Kevin Costner) to see if he needs any help. That does not go over well—men, it seems, lose face when they lose a job.

Meanwhile, old-school and outdated Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) gets canned too, but can’t face the new reality of a job market so changed from the one he entered 40 years ago. His experience gets him his own office at the same job placement service as Walker, who shares a cubicle space with half a dozen others, but also a severe editing of his résumé with a red pen that draws all the color from his face—experience is a disadvantage if it reveals advanced age. The same happens to Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) who started GTX many years ago with James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson). In a different boat, McClary has the means to retire and heal his ego with his mistress after finally leaving his wife, but he’s indignant and he’s not ready to kick back with his grandkids just yet.

Just as the monkey wrench thrown into McClary’s life motivated him to end an unhappy marriage, Bobby faces a family life that has grown unhealthy from neglect and perhaps resentment. There’s such a disconnect between him and Maggie, much of it to do with finances. He brings home the bacon but she’s in charge of cooking it, following recipes, and serving it up. He needs to keep up appearances; she knows it’s impossible.

It’s hard to sympathize with the loss of a three-figure salary—we should be so lucky—but you’d have to be inhumane not to empathize with lives that lose their meaning, even temporarily, when what gave them meaning is lost. The Company Men is a wake-up call to reassess more than your résumé.

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