The Company Men

The slightness of John Wells‘ written and directed first movie The Company Men threatens to leave the film floating away amid a sky of loose references.

Wells – the man behind e.r. and the episodes of The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin left and it stopped being as good – starts his corporate downsizing drama by breaking the confidence of company man Ben Affleck on the back of redundancy but as Affleck struts though the titles with a swagger one cannot help but think that while he is to learn a life lesson as the result of his P45 he might have got the same from an evening at Fight Club.

The white collar workers of job shedding GLX look like the exact sort of people who missed out in David Fincher‘s 1999 modern masterpiece in which corporate achiever Ed Norton battles his nine to five tedium with a few bruising encounters at an underground boxing club. Affleck though – a little too lantern jawed – is his own Tyler Durden so he ends up having to get his life lessons building a house, with Kevin Costner.

Also out on his ear is Chris Cooper who spent 1999’s Sam Mendes made American Beauty watching with fear, loathing and a curious idea involving wandering around in the rain in an homoerotic t-shirt watching Kevin Spacey quit his job. Cooper’s neighbour of Spacey’s Lester Burnham collects Nazi Plates and is mean to Wes Bentley and feasts on the meat of his character, which he sadly is not given the scope to in Wells’ film.

More meat is afforded to Tommy Lee Jones‘ board member out on his ear spends his time counting his money and having an affair with evil Human Resource Maria Bello but seems to enjoy neither very much. Jones’ as grumpy seemed set to be his stock in trade before Barry Sonnerfield‘s 1997 Men In Black made him, you know, funny and that was never better observed than 1994’s Ron Sheldon
biopic of gnarled Baseballer Ty Cobb which saw him a man who was as good at the diamond game as he was bad to everyone he came into contact with.

His office affair with Bello is conducted in plush hotels and lacks romance and as such – and like the rest of the film – weight. No fighting, no Nazi Plates, no flirtations and one finds oneself pining for a more innocent office life.

C.C. Bud Baxter’s perhaps. The man with The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder) is deftly played by the wonderful Jack Lemmon who falls for elevator girl Fran Shirley MacLaine only to find that she has been nabbed by boss Fred McMurray.

Baxter has to pick between his career and his girl, and he picks the girl of course, and makes himself redundant. That’s how careers should end, movie-wise that is.

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By Michael Wood in March, 2011.

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