The Company Men

A terrific 2010 movie that examines the heartbreak caused by corporate downsizing has come to cable TV.  The Company Men follows the lives of three executives fired by a conglomerate trying to prop up its stock price and fend off a leveraged buyout.  If you care about the future of American business in the brave new world of globalism, this movie is for you.

Set in the present, the main focus of The Company Men is on the personal adjustments each exec must make in coping with the loss of a job.  The film treats personal bankruptcy, foreclosure, and even the loss of a beloved sports car.  The Company Men is that rarest of movies -- it's for grownups.  It touches on even morality, of all things.

One of the reasons I'm pointing you to this flick is because I fear that many Americans still haven't come to grips with what recent events mean for them.  Folks are in denial about debt, be it personal, corporate, or government.  The loss of a job wouldn't be so devastating for our execs were they not living so far beyond their means.  Their ability to make mortgage payments is entirely contingent upon the cash flow provided by employment.  If they had bought more modest homes, they might have been able to hang onto them.  Too many Americans predicate their lives on things humming along just as they have been.  Folks plan their lives around things not changing.  But they always do.

Although the main focus is on the personal, the movie's backdrop ties in with the current attacks on Mitt Romney and his time at Bain Capital.  Some businesses just can't be saved; the world has moved on, and they are no longer viable.  The movie's heavy, the CEO played by Craig T. Nelson, may be downsizing simply because he must.  (The unfairness of the attacks on private equity and venture capitalism were laid bare Wednesday night on The Kudlow Report.)

In any event, The Company Men is a gripping story.  But it ends on a positive note, and the final line of dialogue is priceless.  The acting is excellent.  However, because he bunked with al-Gore at Harvard and spoke at the Democrat convention, some conservatives may object to the inclusion of Tommy Lee Jones.  But he's terrific in this film, as he usually is.  Besides, any man who can play Woodrow F. Call can't be all bad.  (I'm a big Jones fan, despite his erstwhile roommate.)  Also acting up a storm is Chris Cooper (a Missouri boy born not far from where I'm typing, according to Wikipedia).  Kevin Costner has a secondary role, but he really nails it, getting the Boston accent down pat.

The following monologue starts on page 113 of a shooting draft by screenwriter John Wells, who also directed.  The Jones and Affleck characters have gone to the rotting, rusting ship-building plant that had once been a buzzing hive of enterprise.

We used to make something here. Before we got lost in the paperwork. The Nevada was built here. The Montana. We had a frigate up front once and a missile boat behind. Phil started here, in hull assembly. He was a scrawny little bastard. Fearless, he'd hang upside down on a bosun's chair seventy feet off the shop floor to weld an overhead seam, Christ. Two thousand men per shift, three shifts a day. Six thousand men earned a fair wage in this room, fed their families, bought homes. Made enough to send their kids to college and buy a second car. Building something they could see. A ship you could see and smell and touch. Men knew their worth, knew who they were. One day you're making 50 bucks, then 5 thousand, then 5 million. You start with some crazy idea, take insane risks, make barely enough to feed your family, not a chance you're gonna succeed. Then all of a sudden you've got all these things and you're terrified of losing them. Stock options, and company jets. Vacation homes in the Bahamas. Truth is, I liked the five hundred dollar lunches and thousand dollar hotel rooms. And now everything I spent thirty years helping to build for myself and everybody else is gone.

With writing like that, I wouldn't have objected to shelling out the money for a theatre ticket.  Instead, I caught it on Showtime (SHO), which will rerun The Company Men several more times, beginning this Saturday at 8:05 PM Eastern (complete schedule).  But if you forget to tune in or set your DVR, Showtime also offers it on-demand.  Or you might buy the DVD, which you can do at the movie's official website, which has a preview video.

The Company Men
Presented by Showtime
Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 8:05 pm EST
For subsequent showings, see the
complete schedule.

It's important that movie-goers screen movies fresh, with their own eyes.  Movie-reviewers can (inadvertently) spoil that experience.  So after -- I say after -- you screen the flick, click on this insightful, longish review from the all-knowing, all-seeing Maharushi.

Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.

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