May 24, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 07 July 2011 11:05
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film now available on DVD, The Company Men.The devastating personal impact of the economic meltdown gives the new film The Company Men relevance as current as today’s headlines. Certainly the movie offers an important exploration, and compelling insight, into how everyday Americans react to unemployment uncertainty. But it misses the mark as drama leaving us hungry for more on a meaningful issue for families to discuss.
Ben Affleck, in an effective performance, seems to have it all: all secure job, a strong salary, a bright future, a big house, a new foreign car and a seemingly happy family. All that changes, overnight, when he loses his job. In denial at first, and then simply angry, Affleck travels a much-too-familiar journey of a man who defines himself by his career success and, when it suddenly vanishes, simply does not know what to do or where to turn. Like many, he simply can’t believe this is happening to him, nor how difficult it may be to recreate his disappearing lifestyle.
If The Company Men had focused on Affleck and his family — and examined, without filters, how his wife and children truly react to economic change — the film could have been a piercing, perhaps inspirational, portrait of the American Family in the new millennium. But writer/director John Wells isn’t satisfied with just one story, no matter how potent. Instead he weaves Affleck’s tale with two weak subplots, one of a corporate leader (Tommy Lee Jones) who finds himself at odds with his CEO and, the second, of a longtime employee (Chris Cooper) who discovers that looking for a job in middle age is no company picnic. If Wells had selected either of these stories to balance the central Affleck plot, the film could have soared. Instead, he tries to cover too much ground, breezes over key emotional moments, leaving an impression that he shot a lot more film than the final running time could accommodate.
While Affleck offers a thoughtful portrayal of the lead character, Jones walks his way through a cardboard role that requires little more than his familiar personality. When this actor pushes a character forward, he is magical; this time, he is repetitive and dull. Chris Cooper, however, makes the most of his limited screen time, as does Kevin Costner in an unlikely role as Affleck’s brother-in-law. That Costner would emerge as an engaging character actor is one of the film’s pleasant surprises. Unfortunately, his scenes are cut short, another victim of the film’s ambitions.
Regardless of its disappointments, The Company Men can be an important film for families to share. While we try, as parents, to protect our children from many things, helping them understand how families cope with real situations is important. None of us want to replay some of the challenges of the past two years; embracing that they happened, and using such events as a foundation for family conversation, can help our kids learn how they might cope if and when they encounter similar challenges. Films willing to explore this subject matter can prompt such a conversation even if, as with The Company Men, the final product is less than it could have been.
The Company Men
* Content: High. The story and the characters are as current as what we read every day in business news.
* Entertainment: Medium. Because the film tries to cover too much ground it misses the opportunity to fulfill its potential.
* Message: High. This nutritious film offers insight into the real situations that families face when financial security is threatened.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to introduce older children to such issues is meaningful
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the challenges any family can face when financial conditions change.
(The Company Men is rated R for language and brief nudity. The film runs 104 minutes.)
3-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
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