The downsizing of the American Dream is the stark theme of this simplistic but sturdy drama, writes Donald Clarke
IT HAD TO happen. Even if no director or producer pitched this project, you suspect that, as an oxbow lake separates from a river bend, natural forces would mould it into unassisted existence.
Yes, it’s the inevitable post-Lehman redundancy drama. Ben Affleck is the neutered young gun. Tommy Lee Jones is the executive with integrity. Chris Cooper (honestly, it couldn’t be anyone else) plays the ravaged older jobsworth who copes least well with unemployment. Count the seconds until another middleaged stalwart – it’s Kevin Costner – turns up as an honest blue-collar worker with a cynical distrust of corporate extravagance.
Written and directed by John Wells, an executive producer on ER, The Company Men does deliver an agreeable slab of solid, meatand-potatoes drama. None of the performances can be faulted. Affleck’s smug swagger suits a character who, though not yet 40, believes a Porsche is every man’s default method of transport. Jones stands as a massive sculpted embodiment of liberal America’s dwindling faith in market-based morality. Cooper is sad.
The Company Men adopts, however, a depressingly simplistic approach to its material. The poster references (let’s be kind) Glengarry Glen Ross – a suited man teeters on a tightrope – but there is none of David Mamet’s fire or bite in the workaday dialogue and predictable story arcs. Does one of the sacked characters, fearful of neighbours’ disapproval, continue to leave the house each morning clutching a briefcase? You can count on it.
The men all begin as employees at the shipbuilding wing of some anonymous conglomerate. One by one, as America’s manufacturing base crumbles, they are downsized and forced to spend time in a glorified job centre. Jones, who helped found the company, struggles to resist further layoffs, but not even that stern face can scare off the advancing forces of globalism.
There’s scope here for nuanced analysis. Unfortunately, the film (nicely shot by Roger Deakins) seems keen to adopt the naive view, voiced by Costner’s construction contractor, a throwback to Martin Sheen’s honest John in Wall Street: all America needs is a return to hard work making real stuff, rather than providing effeminate “financial services”.
The characters’ eventual solution to their woes seems, in the present climate, about as feasible as launching a counselling service for returning Crusaders.
Watchable, for all that.
Worthy workers: Tommy Lee Jones and Ben Affleck in The Company Men