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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/15885/the-company-men/

The Company Men

March 3, 2011 by

All of a half dozen people turned out to see The Company Men the other night at the local theater. The film has been hammered by critics and hasn’t yet grossed $4 million. However, the film, with a production budget of $15 million, and plenty of star power with Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones, has a story that is much better than the critics appreciate.

Not many movie critics can relate to a character that went to the right school and earned an MBA because that is supposed to guarantee career success. None of them played the corporate game well enough to become regional sales manager at 37 and make a buck twenty a year plus bonus, have a Porsche, a big house, country club membership, a boy, a girl, and size zero wife, Patriots season tickets, and all the associated debt and obligations that go with it.

So when Bobby (Affleck) strolls into the boardroom, proudly announcing to his sales staff that he shot 44 on the front and 42 on the back that morning, but then in the next minute is called into human resources and canned, with GTX (the fictional conglomerate) only paying 12 weeks salary plus out placement services, he’s stunned.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief then proceed. Denial: Bobby thinks he’ll get a job right away. No reason for belt tightening. Anger: Bobby believes the company screwed him after 13 years of loyal service and division head Gene McClary (Jones) betrayed him. Bargaining: OK, Bobby resigns himself to cutting back on expenses and he goes to work for the smug brother-in-law he hates (Costner), humping plywood and buckets of mortar up multiple flights of stairs each day. Depression: Bobby losses interest in the bedroom and tells his wife he’s sorry he let her down. Acceptance: Bobby and wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) spend more time with each other and the kids, while Bobby starts to actually enjoy his construction job.

In the meantime, close to sixty year-old Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) is fired as GTX continues to further downsize. Woodward started out as a riveter in the ship yard and had worked his way up to senior management. The company was everything to him. His wife suffers from migraines and is not really part of his life, while his daughter is still in college with hefty tuition payments required to keep her there.

Phil is a man who is used to a certain amount of reverence. A legend at GTX, Paul’s now just another old, out of shape, executive with few job skills, a bad attitude, and a salary requirement that’s too high.

Gene McClary is “boxed” the same day as his old friend Phil. McClary was too candid with stock analysts about how bad company prospects were and cared too much about his employees. He shoots from the hip, says what’s on his mind and head man James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) tires of it.

Gene’s company stock will keep him from missing any meals. However, upon being sacked, he leaves his free-spending society wife to move in with the HR axe woman Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) he had been having an affair with. That relationship quickly dies as Gene mopes around with nothing to do except drink away his depression.

A telling scene has Cynthia McClary (Patricia Kalember) casually asking her husband if she and her girlfriends can take the corporate jet to go shopping and play some golf out of town, at a time when the company was laying off thousands of employees. Upon receiving a withering look from Gene, she curtly responds, “I guess we’ll have to fly commercial.”

Many who have written about this movie believe the ending to be implausible and contrived. Actually it’s not at all. When businesses downsize, assets are sold but don’t go away. People are fired, but they re-emerge, often in the same line of business. Entrepreneurs re-start their lives and new ventures often hiring people they know and trust, their old employees.

The critics complain that The Company Men is no Up In the Air. It’s not. It’s actually a more realistic look at how men (in this case) cope with job loss; which is more than losing a paycheck, it’s losing an identity, a daily purpose, and the splintering of a work family that in some cases can be every bit as tight knit as family at home.


J. Murray March 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Bobby was bragging about shooting an 86? I would have fired him, too. He clearly has bad judgement of what’s good and what isn’t.

Douglas French March 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm

The movie maker might have been using 86 cleverly (since Bobby get’s 86′d a moment later). It also implies that Bobby was hard-working, not spending too much time on his game.

J. Murray March 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Maybe, but I’ve been an avid golfer since I was 6, and to get to an 86, you have to practice a bit. 80s are the strange no-mans land where people who golf too much and don’t have a lot of natural talent land. I tend to hold down a high 70s score once a month, though that’s mostly a benefit of having spent a lot of time before college practicing. The earlier you learn something, the better you potentially get at it and the longer you retain your skills without regular practice. The guys I play with that are hard, dedicated workers usually score high 90s and low triple digits. And we play to drink a few beers and have a good time, not brag about the game at work Monday. The ones that talk about golf at the office are the layabouts, at least in my limited experience as someone not yet 30 could have.

That’s how I see his character from your description of the film (I haven’t seen it and probably won’t until it hits Netflix streaming), and I’m probably over analyzing it, as I tend to do.

Douglas French March 3, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Bobby’s a good athlete. But again, he’s thrilled about the 86…normally he’s probably triple digits. From golf blogger.com

The National Golf Foundation breaks down scores this way:

Average score Percent of adult golfers
Under 80 5%
80-89 21%
90-99 29%
100-109 24%
110-119 10%
120+ 11%
Total 100%

bedwere March 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Sorry, English is my second language: what does it mean “he shot 44 on the front and 42 on the back”? I assume he’s not a mafia killer :-)

Jordan Kleinsmith March 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm

@ bedwere: “44 on the front and 42 on the back” is a reference to golf. Holes 1-9 are commonly referred to as “The Front Nine” whereas holes 10-18 are referred to as “The Back Nine”. The character is proudly announcing his golf scores, which harks back to the old (albeit true to a certain degree) stereotype that company executives spend more time golfing than they do conducting actual business.

geoih March 4, 2011 at 8:06 am

Why’d they put a woman on the advertisement and not even list her name? I guess they literally mean “company men”.

Clyde Adams III March 14, 2011 at 10:02 am

“Paul’s now just another old, out of shape, executive”

This is the only mention of Paul. Who is Paul? Is this a typo for Phil?

Anders Mikkelsen May 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm

One of the things I found interesting about the movie was how the characters Bobby and Phil basically maxed out their spending. They didn’t have a cushion or savings and they just expected the company to keep them at a high salary regardless of outcome. (By contract Gene was genuinely rich.)

It was funny he thought One Communications had given him a job and then they hired someone else as it is a real company. The movie didn’t do well, but I’d still think One Communications wasn’t too happy.

In real life someone like Bobby will find another job, and if he’s a good salesman he’ll actually be quite well paid, probably better paid than the salary in the movie. (It seemed a bit unrealistic he could have ever afforded such a big expensive house on that salary, after taxes and the monthly payment there shouldn’t be much left over. But maybe this is just a realistic example of how out of wack things were.)

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