Perhaps the time is right for a glib, predictable and comforting sermon about life after a layoff.
The Company Men is about "the new reality" of today's economy. But anyone looking for insights deeper than the business-world clichés in this film might find it a sermon easily tuned out.
It's about men, mostly, who are not the villains of the global financial meltdown but aren't the most sympathetic victims, either. They have thrived in a corporate culture that gave them trophy homes, trophy Porsches and trophy wives.
Then the bottom falls out.
Ben Affleck stars as Bobby, a VP of sales at GTX, a transportation conglomerate where "we need to get the stock price up" leads to mass layoffs. Bobby is the first to get the meeting with the HR hitwoman (Maria Bello), the first to collect a severance package and the first to waste his days at the outplacement firm his company hired to help him find a new job.
Chris Cooper is Phil, much older and much higher in the pecking order, who started as a welder in the company's now-idle shipyard, working his way into a heaping mortgage and the chance to send his kids to an Ivy League school.
Tommy Lee Jones is the division head, rich but principled, appalled at the layoffs of old friends and not willing to lie about the company's prospects, even if his boss (Craig T. Nelson) doesn't like it.
Wells' film takes Bobby through the stages of death and dying that losing a longtime job can seem like. Bobby keeps up appearances, is sure "it'll just be a few days" before he finds work, and maintains the country club dues, Porsche payments and his sense of superiority as he is beaten down by the job hunt. Most of us will recognize the bitter disappointment of a near-miss and the false promises, if not the anger that Bobby's sense of entitlement gives him.
His wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) is the practical one, going back to her nursing job, putting the house on the market, hunkering down.
The HR hitwoman is sleeping with the boss, and the other wives are parodies: the spendthrift, the self-medicating alcoholic. Writer-director John Wells is far more at home with Bobby's contemptuous, blue-collar contractor brother-in-law (Kevin Costner, good), the guy Bobby's too good to go to work for. Or so he thinks.
There's truth among the clichés. Cooper's guy suffers the most indignities and is the best-written character, a man ordered to delete everything — his Vietnam War service, his many years in each job — from his résumé by a callous career counselor who has little hope for a 60-something man out of work.
The only edge to the movie is in the CEO, made a life-size villain by Nelson. He earns 700 times as much as his average worker, figures he's worth that and will throw as many bodies overboard as it takes to save his private jet, his island in the Bahamas and the swank new corporate headquarters that he insists they keep, rather than employees.
Cliché or not, any working person in America will recognize him.