Director: John Wells (“E.R.”)
Writer: John Wells
Producers: Claire Rudnick Polstein, Paula Weinstein, John Wells
Starring: Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Craig T. Nelson, Chris Cooper, Maria Bello, Kevin Costner, Rosemarie DeWitt
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 104 min.
There really isn’t any way of describing how terrible this film is without getting into specific spoiler territory so I’ll try to brush over some of the overall problems with the movie without getting too detailed. Suffice it to say that this film is trying so darn hard to be relevant and informative that it instantly becomes irrelevant, a product of its own past and something that has already aged terribly. Up in the Air, this is not. It’s full of corny, overwrought clichés that are so heavy handed that I couldn’t help but bust into laughter as I verbally recalled the story to my girlfriend two hours after leaving the theater.
The story is essentially about a bunch of corporate execs that lose their job due to downsizing and are having a hard time coping with their 12 weeks of full pay and benefits at a $120,000+ a year. They have a hard time finding employment in this downtrodden economy (yeah, the $60,000/year job just isn’t good enough) and several of them end up either sitting around all day feeling sorry for themselves, learning the value of an “honest” day’s work or just giving up entirely. Or in Chris Cooper’s case, getting drunk and throwing rocks at the office building while screaming obscenities in the middle of the night. It’s pretty dramatic stuff – it’s just like Jenny in Forrest Gump.
Now here’s the thing, the film isn’t really trying to get the audience to sympathize with these characters. No, the film wants us to see the shallowness and ridiculousness of corporate stipends, bonuses and how materialism makes us less human. Movie goers seem to be wrongly hating this movie thinking that the filmmakers intent is for us to feel sympathy. I don’t believe they want us to feel sympathy (much less empathy) towards anyone here. We’re supposed to not like these characters; which is the one thing this film does right – I don’t really like any of these people. The outside-of-work drama (sleeping around, golf is the most important thing in the world, wives who force them to appear to go to work everyday, etc.) in their lives makes me want to punch most of them in the face in the first place. So when they get fired I don’t really care.
The cast is made up of pretty much all A-list stars; which is about the only thing that makes this picture watchable. Tommy Lee Jones is probably the highlight and the chemistry between him and Chris Cooper is kind of fun to watch unfold on screen. Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married) was a big reason why I walked into the theater in the first place. And aside from some strange accent lurches, she’s pretty dazzling. Despite some of the dialogue she’s forced to spew, she’s seems to really be the only character that has a firm and reasonable grasp of the situation and handles it accordingly and responsibly. Then there’s Mario Bello. Essentially only in the film to look hot and show her tits. Her story arc is totally believable.
Costner’s blue collar angle is semi-interesting but once again it’s just too obvious and typical and then worse, descends into the same territory as everyone else: gotta work weekends just to make the bonus so that I can pay my workers. In other words, everyone living in America has it bad. Life is so unfair. Deal with it. Does the film offer up any answers to this misery? Of course not, mostly because there are no easy answers and the last thing this film tries to do is anything remotely difficult or thought provoking. The film itself is doing the opposite of what I believe its intentions to be: telling it like it is. The Company Men is offensive to anyone who has ever found themselves jobless.
Obviousness. It all comes down to obviousness and heavy handedness. Nowhere in this film is there anything we didn’t already know. On top of that it’s spoon fed to us in the most ham-fisted, cliché-ridden way that it just makes me want to puke. It’s written and directed by TV’s John Wells of “ER” fame. So yeah, you kind of know what territory you’re treading into here. Heck, even the music choices are terribly eye rolling bits of pop-typical that just underscores the lack of anything resembling dramatic punch. Even Roger Deakins is seemingly wasted here.
No matter how the movies ends (in only two possibilities) the movie will fail and fail hard. The main character can either learn the lesson taught to him by the blue collar worker and love life for what it is or they can start all over again and just go back to doing what they did before. With the former it is hackneyed, with the latter it is uninspiring and infuriating. I’ll let you guess which way the movie goes. And that, my friends, is exactly what I suggest you do: guess as to what happens. Because if you pay money to see this movie and find out what happens for yourself, you only have yourself to blame for the torture you’ll endure.