Monday, June 13, 2011

The Company Men

I often ask my film students what kind of movies as Christians should we make. Of course, the classic example would be transformational or redemptive films. But one category that is underserved and overlooked is relevant and timeless themes.

The Company Men, is one example that serves this category well. Ripped from the headlines, this film is one that practically everyone can relate to. With the current economic downturn, millions have lost their jobs. Who hasn’t been affected at least on some level? Somehow I believe even future audiences will have no problem finding The Company Men just as relevant.

This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and received substantial critical acclaim. The Company Men features an all-star cast including Ben Afflack, Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones. Some might suggest this film does not contain a strong faith message, but I disagree. Faith is essential in surviving difficult and challenging situations. And, believe me, the characters in this film are going to need all the faith they can find in order to survive.

Bobby Walker (Ben Afflack) is a successful upward mobile, corporate white-collar worker who enjoys the good life. But after loosing his six figure income due to corporate downsizing, he has a difficult time adjusting to the new realities of his situation. But he’s not alone as two other divisions within his company are eliminated. Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) is one of the corporation’s oldest employees. Approaching the age of 60, he’s also given the pink slip. Division head Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) clashes with corporate CEO, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) his best friend and college roommate over the company’s decision to keep stock prices high by cutting costs which means eliminating thousands of workers. Ultimately, Gene is also forced out of his position. Now, all three men must face difficult decisions. How will they survive?

This film is more than just a film about loosing a job. What defines us as a person? What’s really important? What can we live with, and what can we live without? For some of the characters, their job and career define them as a person. They simply do not know how to function without the job. But others will have an opportunity to see there’s more to life than the corporate grind.

The Company Men provides a framework and a discussion about the dysfunctional nature of today’s corporate world and business environment. Tommy Lee Jones’s character, Gene McClary, seems to understand what has gone wrong with his company. Gene says, “We used to make things –build ships—now we just move stuff from the inbox to the outbox.”

Another element to the film is Bobby Walker’s (Ben Afflack) brother-in-law, Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner) who speaks for the blue-collar worker as he questions the moral integrity of corporate America’s attitude toward the working class. Both Bobby and Jack constantly clash over this issue.

Obviously, this can be a difficult film to watch if your are going through the unpleasant experience of job loss. The Company Men is realistic in it’s portrayal of the unrealistic expectations in the fulfillment of the American Dream. When did it become acceptable to put greed and wealth before the welfare of those who do the work that makes the company successful in the first place? This film does a remarkable job of exploring complex issues.

Despite the tragedies that it depicts, The Company Men is a film that embraces a message of hope. For each character, it really depends on if they are willing to wake up and realize what is truly meaningful and important in their lives. Sometimes a job loss or other tragic situations can serve as a wake-up call. That’s certainly true in the case of Bobby, Phil and Gene. The only question is will they wake up in time to change the course of their lives for the better?

Also, a tragedy in our lives can put us on a course that is better than where we were.

NOTE OF CAUTION: The Company Men is rated R for some language. The film is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.

No comments:

Post a Comment