Film of the week

The Company Men (15)


Starring: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt

We all know people who love their jobs. But what of those people who are their jobs, who have made their identity inseparable from the money and status that work brings? The condition may not be troubling, or even noticeable, during the boom times. In an economic crisis, however, when downsizing is the order of the day, such extreme dependence looks fraught with danger. If you define yourself in terms of your job, then who are you when the job gets taken away?

That question is the beating heart of The Company Men, a drama set in the wake of the financial crash of 2008 and a reminder, as if we needed one, that no job nowadays is for life. Like last year's recession comedy Up in the Air, it places front and centre a handsome alpha male and watches as his luck goes south. Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a golf-mad executive who works for a Boston corporation, GTX, where they're making redundancies in preparation for a big merger. "You're firing me?" he asks, incredulous, and thus his journey of mortification begins. Bobby looks for work, and there's nothing doing. He isn't a natural object of sympathy – how sorry can we feel for somebody who counts Porsche payments among his outgoings? – but he doesn't help himself, either. There's no Clooneyish charm in him, just arrogance, churlishness and a very American sense of entitlement. "I'm not just another asshole with a resume," he says. "You ARE another asshole with a resume" – and that's his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) talking.

The film is written and directed by John Wells, a debutant in features but with illustrious TV credits to his name, including ER and The West Wing. He presents a chilling picture of corporate US, where loyalty to employees has been ousted by something called the bottom line. "We work for stockholders now," says GTX boss Salinger, much to the disgust of his second-in-command Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) who helped him set up the company years ago when their main resource was shipbuilding. Gene has an old-fashioned sense of business as a community, and objects to the fat cats getting all the cream; he also knows that any display of conscience may put his own position in jeopardy. He is not much more enamoured of a spendthrift wife who talks of golfing weekends in Palm Beach: "Think you can get us one of the corporate jets?" she asks. His silent reaction – Jones does some fantastic looks of despair here – is enough to indicate she'll be flying commercial.

The story's third main character is the most vulnerable economically, and the most pitiable personally. Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) has worked his way up from the factory floor to the boardroom, and now, pushing 60, finds himself out on his ear. We see him returning to his home and realising that he can no longer afford the life he has made for his family. When he applies to the job placement centre – a humiliation Bobby has already endured – he's told by the adviser that he should dye his hair and not mention his army service in Vietnam: where employment is concerned, age is now his enemy. In one of the film's most resonant lines, he sums up his predicament: "My life ended, and nobody noticed." Gene offers him a sympathetic ear, but he sees too well how Phil, the ultimate company man, has been utterly defeated.

The film, honest and thoughtful as it is, feels a bit short on dramatic poke. Wells's background in TV drama ensures a craftsmanship and attention to detail, but it's not been precisely shaped to feature length. The fault is most discernible in the character of a human resources manager, played by Maria Bello, whose adulterous liaison with Jones's character arrives seemingly out of nowhere. There may have been a problem with the editing, but Bello's role looks to have been muffled, and the story is the weaker for it. Another who could legitimately complain of being downsized is Kevin Costner, playing a minor role as Affleck's blue-collar brother-in-law. Costner is rather good as this lean, close-mouthed fellow, who doesn't especially like Bobby yet out of familial loyalty offers him a carpentry job on his latest house renovation. The symbolism is hammered home – Bobby has to rebuild his life piece by piece – but it establishes a quiet sense of decency to contrast with the Darwinian ruthlessness of the white-collar sector.

As an anatomy of the US under the economic cosh this would make an instructive companion piece to the recent documentary Inside Job. It reveals the human consequences of the government-sponsored deregulation and profiteering that reached its fateful apogee during the Bush years. For the same reason, it is unlikely to set the box-office alight. For some, a drama about joblessness may be too raw; for most, it's not something they'll want to see at the weekend. That's a pity, because they will miss good performances by Affleck, Chris Cooper and Rosemarie DeWitt, and an outstanding one by Tommy Lee Jones. We have perhaps become complacent about this actor's expert embodiment of gnarled integrity. His peerless timing can turn a good line into a great one, and his laconic, side-of-the-mouth delivery creates the striking illusion that he's not really acting at all – that he's firing out the lines by himself, spontaneously. I don't think anyone will mistake The Company Men for a great movie, but it has greatness in it, and goes by the name of Jones.



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss