Kap­i­tal cru­elity

The down­siz­ing of the Amer­i­can Dream is the stark theme of this sim­plis­tic but sturdy drama, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

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

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