With around a tenth of the country out of work, the amount of sympathy you’ll be able to generate for The Company Men’s downsized executives probably depends on your own financial circumstances. It’s tough to feel torn up about Ben Affleck selling his Porsche when most of us are hustling to make rent at the end of every month.
Affleck stars as a hotshot businessman sent packing by an ice-queen HR automaton (Maria Bello). He spends a fair chunk of the picture in increasingly frantic denial. Insisting on preserving the illusion of success, Bobby keeps the sports car, the steak dinners and the country club membership, refusing to even entertain the idea of moving somewhere more reasonable than a suburban mansion. Affleck excels at playing callow, his boorishness put to the test by the cheesy self-help slogans of outplacement seminars.
Writer-director John Wells is revered in television; he was showrunner for ER, then resuscitated The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin’s departure. Despite the contributions of brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins, Company Men has a distinctly small-screen sensibility, often feeling like a season of one of Wells’ polished dramas whittled down to feature length.
It also feels inauthentic, a combination of talking points and statistics lacking the grace notes of real life. Bobby’s fall is absurdly diagrammed, with the former master of the universe forced to move his family back into his parents’ house (couldn’t they have just rented an apartment?) and take a charity job hanging drywall with his surly, salt-of-the-earth brother-in-law, played by Kevin Costner.
Adding to the ersatz pallor is Hollywood’s recent and unfortunate affinity for terrible Boston accents. The equivalent of an English drawing-room drama in Cockney slang, Company Men ’s moneyed, white-collar MBAs all drop their R’s and bellow profanity like one of Micky Ward’s sisters in The Fighter. This also gives Costner another chance to prove that he has no business doing accents, evah.
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely