TV Producer John Wells, who is best known for his work on "E.R." and "The West Wing," returns to the big screen with a new film that examines one of the biggest problems in our country today, unemployment. The movie specifically analyzes the effects corporate downsizing has on small towns and the people who live in them. The story revolves around several different employees in one Boston-area corporation who are all dealing with sudden layoffs in their own ways. The movie is good but builds slow and takes some time to unfold. The film stars an excellent cast, which includes Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, Rosemary DeWitt and Maria Bello. Affleck does an adequate of carrying the movie but is helped by Jones and Cooper in their supporting roles. But DeWitt, who plays Affleck's husband, is especially good and lends an authenticity to his role. What the movie lacks in scope it makes up for it with heart and a pretty good script.
The film begins by introducing us to Bobby Walker (Affleck), an executive who has just been suddenly let go from his cushy job. Bobby goes through all the normal fazes, including denial and depression, but eventually he has to face the truth. At the same time we follow the lives of Gene (Jones), Booby's mentor and Vice President of the company, and Phil (Cooper), Jones' right-hand-man. Gene is upset with the sudden layoffs but ultimately realizes that he is powerless to stop them. Gene is having an affair with Sally, who is the employee in charge of firing. With Phil's job on the line, Gene takes measures to try and save the company from more layoffs. But when his plans don't work out, Phil soon loses his job too and doesn't take the news so well.
Meanwhile, Bobby is having trouble finding a job as the months go by and by. Finally, with no where else to turn, Bobby's wife, Maggie (Rosemary DeWitt), encourages him to go to work construction with her brother Jack (Kevin Costner). Swallowing his pride, Bobby takes the job and slowly learns that there is more to life than money, big houses and fast cars. Jack shows Bobby what it means to really work hard and although he resents him at first, he soon comes around and discovers the satisfaction of a hard day's work. Eventually, feeling marginalized in his position with his own company and dealing with close personal tragedy, Gene comes up with an idea that could not only create new jobs but could also give him new purpose in life. But now that Bobby is content, will he want his old life back?
The movie deals with everyday issues that anyone can relate to and it handles it in a mature way, never skating the issues but instead dealing with them in a classy manner. The characters are well defined and well acted, but at times fall into general stereotypes. Maria Bello's character begins to feel stale as the demonized person in charge of firing and the actress doesn't seem to have been given enough screen time to create a full arc. While Affleck is good in his role, he too seems to be showing signs of fatigue before the film is over. DeWitt is very good in her role as Maggie and in some ways is able to ground Affleck's performance. Tommy Lee Jones is excellent in his part and you can feel his pain as he watches his own power within the company fade. Chris Cooper is equally great as Phil, a wishy-washy kind of guy who doesn't deserve the fate that eventually becomes him. Unfortunately if there is one bad performance in the film it is Kevin Costner as Jack. I know that the character is a "blue-collar" guy from New England but Costner sounds like his character from "13 Days," with a bad Kennedy-want-to-be accent. It's ridiculous and you feel like he is trying way to hard to be a "blue-collar" guy.
Wells does a decent job writing and directing the film, even though the movie does begin to loose its energy in the second act. The set up for the film is great but it begins to loose its way with the separate storylines and by the time they intersect near the end, its almost too late. The tone and mood he sets for the movie works great and is helped by an excellent score. You can feel the crispness of the fall leaves in many of the scenes and the Boston skyline is beautifully captured in several moments. While the movie fails to capitalize on many of the plot points that it sets up, its strength comes from the subject matter that the film tries to address. That feeling of rejection that you get when you are let go from a job that you have been a slave too for years. It's like a break-up and the questions becomes, how do you survive? How do you operate in a world that no longer needs you? Those are the questions that so many are dealing with right now in this country and this movie does a good job of dealing with those issues too. In the end, "The Company Men," is a smart, ambitious and intriguing movie that boasts some strong performances from its excellent cast and is worth checking out if you have the chance.