If you’re in the mood for a populist message about the value of hard work and loyalty featuring three unsympathetic characters, have we got a movie for you.
A generation ago there lived in this country
people men who started in the mail room or some such hellhole and toiled their way to a corner office, stock options and 401(k)s and never dreamed of moving to another employer. But somewhere along the way things changed and companies realized that they were paying lots of inflated salaries to older men whose skill set lagged behind the times. “The Company Men” is their story.
It’s difficult to tell just how badly we’re supposed to feel for a guy who has to sell his Porsche, cancel his golf club membership and unload his house with the underwater mortgage. Maybe it would’ve been easier to root for Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) if he’d stopped being a jerk about 45 minutes earlier. Instead, by the time he goes hat in hand to get a job, you’re just relieved he’s got something to do other than whine.
It’s somehow fitting that hanging in Bobby’s home office is a Nomar Garciaparra jersey, a relic from another 30-something Bostonian who had an out-sized opinion of his own worth. You might think it was intentional, but the shirt hangs next to a New Jersey Devils jersey, which makes zero sense for Bobby’s character. Maybe it’s an inside joke, but it’s insanely incongruous.
When Bobby does finally get to work, doing menial labor far below his image of himself, we are treated to the strains of the Marshall Tucker Band’s classic “Can’t You See,” in which the singer considers jumping off a cliff, hiding in a hole or running away because of “what that woman, she been doin’” to him. What woman did anything bad to Bobby?
Most of the struggles Bobby suffers are exactly what happens to a guy who tells his wife, "We don't need a cushion." It’s amusing, too, that when Bobby’s old Boss, Gene McLary (Tommy Lee Jones) finally gets himself a fresh start, part of his plan is to “renegotiate with the unions.” Um, isn’t this the sort of greedy management crap that’s already left so many homeless and hungry? But now it’s a tool for rebirth and redemption?
Listening to Phil Woodward, Bobby’s and Gene’s fellow redundancy talk about how he used to hang upside-down from a mile up to weld the inside of who-knows-what, one can’t help but think, “Right, and you were paid for that 30 years ago.”
The irony is that the sense of entitlement our heroes suffer is not that far removed from the sense of entitlement that drove their boss to lay them all off. In the end, their fates play out as though director-writer John Wells played F/M/K halfway through crafting his story.
“The Company Men” wants us see a way out of the economic mess and back to being a proud nation that builds things, which is all well and good, but there is no way Bobby, Gene, and Phil are gonna show us the way.