The Company Men


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Company Men is the film Wall Street 2 might have been without the obligatory return of Gordon Gecko. Company Men carries the torch for the Martin Sheen character in Wall Street, and his adjuration to create something real. The general idea is that an economy based upon maintaining inflated stock prices is nothing but a magic act - an illusion that works only as long as everyone believes in it. In 2008 everyone stopped believing, corporations faced difficult decisions, jobs disappeared, homes were lost, and lives were turned upside down. That's what The Company Men is about.

The auteur understands, at least instinctively, that the most vulnerable players in the new economy are not the front-line workers, but the middle managers. Most of the highly compensated low-level jobs began to disappear when manufacturing started to leave North America. In the old manufacturing economy, those assembly line guys were in highly vulnerable positions during economic downturns because they got paid more than their potential replacements. They needed unions and government intervention to make sure they were not replaced arbitrarily. In our new society filled with McJobs, however, the lowest level employees are completely safe from arbitrary layoffs. 7-Eleven can't eliminate the clerks of they want to keep their doors open. The night shift guy can probably keep that job for life, if he wants it.  He only needs to make a reasonable effort and not steal anything. Nor does he have to fear a younger guy coming along to do the job better and cheaper. The wages are already so low that the employers can't save money by firing the existing employees and hiring cheaper ones. Even if they wanted to, there are not battalions of people standing in line for those jobs, even during a recession.  Similarly, the very highest corporate levels are also safe from layoffs. The CEO's and CFO's jobs can't be eliminated, and a company can't even survive without good men in those seats.

But everyone else's job is vulnerable.

To the extent that The Company Men concentrates on the lives of newly-unemployed middle managers, the film is on very solid ground. It has identified the right victims of the new economy, and it has presented the struggles of those executives in a manner that is both effective and realistic. I can attest to that, because I once went through the same thing that the Ben Affleck character went through in this film. One day I was one of my company's superstars and the next day I was unemployed, despite supporters at the highest levels of the corporation. The writer/director, John Wells, really did his homework on this aspect of the film. The executive outplacement services are portrayed exactly as they really are. The stages which Affleck goes through are precisely as I remember them from my experience in his shoes.

Where the film fails is on the other side of the equation. The auteur succumbs to the temptation to portray the firm's CEO as a callous, greedy character who is not substantially more dimensional than Mr. Burns on The Simpsons. I know three CEOs of large companies, and they are all intelligent, thoughtful and humane. Not a single one of them could play a CEO in a Hollywood movie. But every single one of them knows that the reason he has his job is that the value of what he adds to the corporation is greater than what he takes out in compensation. There no sense whining about the fact that CEO's make X million dollars per year. They get that money because the shareholders believe they can create far more than that. Believe me, if you could convince a company that you could add $100 million to its market value, they would have no problem paying you five million a year to do that. In that sense, good CEOs are actually underpaid. They may bring the company many, many times their salaries in increased profit and market capitalization. On the other hand, the assembly line worker may be overpaid, especially if he's been around a long time. That's reality. If he's getting paid $30 an hour, you can bet that there is a hungry young guy who will do the job faster and better for $20.

In other words, the system sucks for the little guy, but saying that it sucks is not the same as saying it is unfair. The problem with pure capitalism is not that it is unfair, but that it is altogether too fair. Employees are valuable assets only if the company is more profitable with them than without them, and if there is nobody who can do the same job better and/or cheaper. A pragmatic evaluation of a company's assets, including its employees, will not consider whether they put in more than they took out in the past, but simply whether retaining them now will add to or detract from the company's current and future value. And even if the employees pass that test today, they may be fired next month if something changes.

Yes, that is greedy. Of course corporations are greedy. We WANT them to be greedy, because our retirement funds are invested in them, and we want those nest eggs to be as big as possible. Placing a control on this greed, making sure that pragmatic business decisions are tempered by the humane and charitable treatment of employees, is the job of other institutions in society. The corporation's function in society is to make as much profit as it can within the rules established by the society in which it operates. It is up to the government to make sure that those rules are fair to begin with. Yes, some corporations break the laws, and when that happens, their management should be punished, but if you have problems with a business which is abiding by the rules and laws, your disagreements with their practices are not with them at all, but with the lawmakers who created the rules which allowed and sanctioned that behavior.

The author of this film doesn't really seem to understand how all of this works. He rants against senior management, and he fills the second half of the film with trite monologues which inevitably pontificate about the value of honest hard workers, the kind of workers who create something of true value: the farmers who create our food, the carpenters who create our furniture and shelter, the manufacturers who build our cars, and so forth. All of those people are marvelous indeed, but we are not going to suddenly turn America into to some kind of giant Amish commune. The big new fortunes of today are not generated by the Amish, or even by the industrial giants who used to employ armies of blue-collar workers, but by Google and EA and Facebook - entities created by people who have devised vast enterprises which exist entirely in the ether, and who now employ thousands of other people like themselves, not farmers, not carpenters, not union guys, but guys who sit in chairs and stare at bright screens all day; not guys who work with their backs, but guys who work with their brains. That's just the way it is in our post-industrial world. The big question is this: how can we realistically create a future world in which the other Americans - the ones with strong backs and no coding skills - can also have a satisfying non-criminal life when the value of manual labor is set by the global free market, and is therefore at a third world level. To my knowledge, nobody has a solution to that, least of all the author of The Company Men.

If only the author had not tried to deal with the global issues and had stuck with the personal stories, this would be an excellent film. Unfortunately, when he tries to reach farther, he overreaches, and turns the second half of the film into a series of laughably simple homilies which lead to a facile solution, although the subject of restructuring a massive economy is actually so labyrinthine that any workable real-life solution has escaped even the most complex minds.  That's a shame, because if The Company Men had concentrated solely on the human effects of the layoffs, which it seemed to get exactly right, it might have been a contender.

But it didn't, and it isn't.

DVD Blu-Ray


74 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
72 (of 100)









6.9 IMDB summary (of 10)
B+ Yahoo Movies









Box Office Mojo.

The film had not yet opened at the time this was written.









Here's the script, if you want to read it.



Maria Bello shows her breasts in a set-up which is completely gratuitous.

The nudity doesn't demonstrate her vulnerability, and it's not titillating either. It's just casual. 90% of the scene is shot from Tommy Lee Jones's point of view - looking at her from behind. The camera leaves that perspective only long enough to flash Maria's breasts, then returns to it! If the camera had stayed behind her, the scene would have been no better or worse. In other words, the director shows her breasts just for the sake of showing her breasts.

My kind of guy!


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It's a watchable, slick, well-acted movie which functions brilliantly in the microcosm of individual human lives, but fails when it tries to deal with the macrocosm of capitalism.