Not a review, but a reflection on the film. It may contain spoilers, so read with caution if you haven’t yet watched the film.
Mr. J and I finally watched Company Men starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner and Chris Cooper. The story featuring an ensemble cast of talented actors takes viewers into the stories of three men who, after dedicating various degrees of lives and talents to their companies, are struggling to deal with the social and financial aftershocks of a massive layoff. Each man and their families deal with success and failure as they write their destinies in ways that just about any struggling American and jaded professional can relate.
It took a while for Mr. J to warm up to watching the film due to his own similar experience in the American corporate world. Just a few years after being laid off due to a corporate acquisition, Mr J watched the film with an achy heart recounting the years of working his way up from an internship to management to being handed a cardboard box, no longer shielded by his CEO who was also making her way out the door.
Layoff cases such as Mr. J’s can hit without warning. Those who manage to avoid the first round of layoffs quietly sneak around the office, trying avoid attention like innocent deer in the range of a trigger-happy hunter during hunting season, while some go down fighting for justice and worker’s rights until they get that foreboding pink slip that, despite its cheery color, represents a transition into a dark period of humiliation, fear, and uncertainty.
Bobby Walker, played by Ben Affleck, manages to lose all his material gains such as his Porsche, stately home, and golf membership, as well as all the immaterial things he’s earned throughout his career: community status, professional influence, and self confidence. He’s coping by grounding himself through his family’s support while finally understating his professional success created an illusory sense of security.
Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Gene McClary, struggles to do what’s right in maintaining the legacy he’s built throughout his career. When his company is being dismantlement to provide small profit margins to a faceless board of directors who want to expand corporate profits while heartlessly cutting down the workforce to improve numbers on a balance sheet, McClary is disgusted, hurt, and uncertain about the evolving values on which his company he founded. He’s faced with the dilemma of putting his security at risk or facing his opposition head on, despite the harsh reality he’ll endure on both professional and personal fronts.
Phil Woodward, played by Chris Cooper, represents the small, yet vastly ignored percentage of people who invest their entire heart, soul, and character into their work and find no way out of the depression caused by social rejection after a job loss. Losing his job at retirement age, he sees no self-worth outside of his job title and salary, and feels he has reached the end of his life, thus taking his own.
Despite their various financial and social statuses, all of these men are faced with major lifestyle changes. Each must adjust their lifestyle according to their financial situation: making sacrifices that put their egos in check and grappling with the spiritual and material trials endured as a consequence of job loss. They all realize the interpersonal skills they learned in the boardroom have no affect on how they manage their delicate family ties.
As a wife, I observed the various ways each character’s wife deals with her husband’s career blows. How a man thrives through job loss and its correlated spiritual consequences relies on the support of his wife or partner. One wife can batten down the hatches in preparation for the tough times ahead, one can choose to look the other way, clinging desperately and selfishly to the lifestyle afforded by his previous income, and the other can emotionally check out, offering no comfort and hope to her struggling husband. These approaches affect not only short term results, but long term results on every level: financial, emotional, social, spiritual.
The characters, through each humbling circumstance, ultimately overcome or surrender to failure. A couple can endure job loss but not without some serious introspection and self discipline to make substantial lifestyle and professional transformations similar to what Company Men’s characters undergo.
Watching the film can be uncomfortable, and maybe even painful, for those who have experienced similar situations. Mr J often sighed and said emphatically, “I know exactly how that feels,” remembering the struggles, the hopes, and the feelings of the characters. Despite the negative feelings the film rehashes, the film does inspire hope and awareness of the fact that careers end, lives change, and spirit can thrive come hell and high waters.