“Company Men” hits home hard

By Margaret Clayton

corporate office flickr Jamieson Teo
(Flickr: Jamieson Teo)

When you walk into the theater for a screening of “The Company Men,” you might temporarily forget that you are not watching extended media broadcast. Beginning with a news montage detailing the economic recession, the film tackles the same problem award-winning “Up In The Air” did last year. This time however, the tale is told from the perspective of the fired, not the firers.

Filmed entirely in Massachusetts, as proven by the Lahey Clinic, framed Bruins jersey and highly coveted Patriots season tickets, “The Company Men” could be the life-story of any state resident who was laid off recently. The all-too-real storyline is shared by a range of Hollywood male leads, including Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) a 37 year-old husband and father of two, who is put on the chopping block, along with his six-figure salary. Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) is Bobby’s boss, a father and grandfather in his own right who started the company GTX alongside his cold best friend, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson). Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) started his career on the factory floor and, 30 years later, he is almost 60 years old with two college tuitions to pay for a his job in jeopardy. Last but not least is the blue-collar carpenter, Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner), Bobby’s brother-in-law who proudly wears his University of Massachusetts t-shirt while renovating a house in Roxbury.

This movie takes us through the fear, anger and mixture of positive and negative coping skills that go along with losing a job. It is a film for anyone who has asked, selfishly, “What about me? Am I next?” or thought that their entire life is reflected in the cardboard box given to them when they are told, usually without warning, to pack up their desk. It is interesting that the filmmakers have the blue-collar worker coming from a state school and the big-time executives built from years of experience or a private-school (Boston University) education, when this dilemma affects everyone on the spectrum.

The soundtrack is very deliberate. When there is a potential change of circumstance, such as an interview or a business lunch, the music is uplifting. However, that scene is followed by silence as another door (sometimes literally) is slammed in the character’s face. There are also intentionally-placed reminders of what is important in light of all the job negativity. Life does not stop – there are still birthdays to celebrate with family and friends.

The audience is expected to be well informed on the subject matter, so that he or she knows to laugh when Walker explains how he only expects his recovery to take a few days, the length of his severance package. The movie is emotional in that you want to grab some of the characters and strangle them, or shake some feeling back into the others. There is one scene specifically that is a bit of a tearjerker. The moment is so true to reality, many people may be desensitized to the crisis, allowing the scene to slide into the background.

The theme, consciously stated a couple of times in the film, surrounds what is legal versus what is ethical. How do we help a friend through a recommendation or resume without patronizing them? When do we work for ourselves and not the stockholders or fiscal year budgets that make everyone a number?

If you want to see real life in stadium seating with surround sound and a famous actor playing your friend/father/uncle/boss with a not-so-great Boston accent, take a couple hours and see “The Company Men.”

Margaret Clayton can be reached at [email protected]