Wage Slave News - Contents

Wage Slave News


The Company Men

24 February 2011

"The Company Men" was at first a personal matter for writer and director, John Wells. Having seen his brother-in-law, an electrical engineer, struggle after being laid off, the plot follows the misfortunes of three executives employed at GTX, a major ship-building company, whose head honcho, Jim, played by Craig T. Nelson, made $22 million in bonus payments the previous year. "We will work for the stockholders now", Jim reminds his underlings as he prepares to fire thousands of workers.

Tommy Lee Jones is Gene, Jim's old college roommate who helped him to build the company up from scratch. Gene thinks of GTX's employees as if they were family and it hurts him deeply when he is required to inform 'relatives' that their services are no longer required. In an early scene, Jim's wife requests the use of the company jet, a luxury she won't enjoy much longer, to go from Boston to Palm Springs to get in some shopping.

Most of the movie deals with the struggle of thirty-seven year old hot-shot salesman, Bobby Walker, played by Ben Affleck. At first, Bobby cannot come to terms with being unemployed, whereas his wife, Maggie (Rosemarie De Witt) suggests selling the Porsche and the house. Bobby is convinced that he will soon find employment at his old salary of $120 grand a year, not realizing there are few such jobs available and the competition for them is ferocious. We watch Bobby's gradual disillusionment; being expelled from the country club because can't afford the fees; watching the new owner drive off in his Porsche; being forced to live with his parents. In desperation, he accepts a job in construction, working for his brother-in-law, Jack, (Kevin Costner), who delights in Bobby's downfall and lets him know it. There is a surreal scene when Bobby attends a placement workshop, which Wells himself did. The manager has a roomful of unemployed constantly reciting, "I will win because I have faith, courage, and enthusiasm." When Bobby asked the manager if she was embarrassed, she replied, "I'm dealing with people who feel like they have been in a car accident."

The finest acting is by Chris Cooper, as Phil, a sixty-year-old who has worked his way up from a welder to the number three man at GTX. Cooper takes the audience right into the heart of a man tortured by insecurity, fear, and anxiety. Phil is bewildered by the new and real world in which he finds himself. One job placement officer advises him to quit smoking on the premise that, " The employers don't want a guy with health problems, it will push up the insurance." When applying for an international sales position, he finds how age goes against him, "It's a demanding job, I wouldn't offer it to anyone over thirty", the boss tells him.

Though the acting, direction, and dialogue are good and the movie absorbing, it doesn't tell the viewer anything new, By now, most unemployed labourers, truck drivers, and factory workers, are aware that getting the axe isn't any easier for middle management than it is for them. Whatever bitterness the ex-executives feel is directed primarily at GTX and a little at America itself. Nowhere is there any suggestion that there is something fundamentally wrong with capitalism.

A reviewer should not give the ending away, so suffice to say it's capitalist propaganda at its most desperate. "Company Men" is just another movie that tells its audience "There's nothing terrible about the economic system we live under. So what if times are hard, with faith, courage, and enthusiasm, things will get better.' In that respect, perhaps the most significant comment is when Bobby glares at the personnel manager, who has delivered the bad news and uses the well-known and delightful 'F.O.' expression. What would be more delightful is when a socialist majority says that to capitalism.

Table of Contents - Wage Slave Newsline