The Company Men (8/10)
by Tony Medley
Run Time 109 minutes.
Not for children.
This is an always timely story
of a corporate tyrant who wants to pad his net worth by increasing the
value of his company by “downsizing,” that is, firing everyone he can to
reduce the payroll costs and increase his bottom line.
The film is well-written and
wonderfully acted. James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) is the CEO of GTX, a
conglomerate. Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) is his second in command
and former college roommate. Phil Wooward (Chris Cooper) works for Gene.
Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is a sales manager down the line a bit. All
become victims of Salinger’s avaricious quest to get as much money as he
can. His solution to raising the company’s earnings is to downsize, so
instructs Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) to fire a whole bunch of people.
The first to get the ax is Bobby, and the movie is mostly told from his
The action taken by Salinger
is pretty commonplace. The late Steve Ross, a hero to lots of Captains
of Industry, was a particularly heartless tyrant in his avarice. In 1990
he fired lots of employees, including 605 magazine workers in a
“cost-cutting measure” and then took compensation of $78 million,
including a huge bonus. If he had paid himself, let’s say $25 million
less, it would have left the company with enough money to pay each of
the fired workers over $41,000 that year, which was good money in 1990.
But he was unmoved. The people were dumped and he cashed his paycheck.
All the while, like Salinger, he was planning a 2.8 million square foot
office complex in Columbus Circle.
An even more current parallel
is Ray Irani, who took over as the boss of Occidental Petroleum in 1990,
after longtime chief executive Armand Hammer died. Hammer always made
sure his company paid a large dividend to his shareholders. Irani
reversed that when he took over. He cut the dividend substantially. His
take from the company was often criticized as excessive, totaling over
$124 million from 2001-2005, according to Forbes magazine. In 2006 alone
his total compensation exceeded a $460,000,000, while shareholders
suffered with little current return on their investment. Demands by
shareholders to increase the dividend left Irani unmoved. I don’t know
if Wells based this film on Ross, or if he has even heard of Irani, but
the parallel with Ross is striking.
This film is written and
directed by John Wells, who contributed mightily to The West Wing
and reflects his typically Hollywood political leanings, mostly in the
mixed morality. McClary cheats flagrantly on his wife with Wilcox. In Wells’ view being a corporate tyrant like Salinger
who abuses his employees to pad his remuneration is a cardinal sin, but
cheating on your wife, like McClary, and being the other woman in
breaking up a marriage, like Wilcox, are just par for the course.
McClary is portrayed sympathetically as a hero, despite his blatant and
While all the acting is
superb, the one who stood out for me was RoseMarie DeWitt, who plays
Bobby’s commonsense wife, Maggie. However, there was one scene that
needed an expert advisor. Bobby goes to the driving range and there is a
scene of him hitting golf balls. Bobby is supposed to be an avid golfer.
Unfortunately, Affleck has apparently never played golf because every
time he takes a backswing, he bends his left arm drastically. One of the
first things you learn when you play golf is not to bend your left arm
(assuming you are swinging righthanded, which Affleck was). Some great
players, but not many, bend their left elbow, like Fred Couples, but
they are able to readjust on a repeating basis, and usually make up for
this with other excellent features in their swing, like tempo, balance,
repetitive practice, etc. A normal hack like Affleck could never get
away with it. Pretty sloppy that nobody caught this.
That’s a minor criticism, but
pointing out things like this is what they pay me for. Affleck’s
defective golf swing certainly doesn’t spoil an entertaining movie about
a horrible human weakness in the capitalistic system.
January 19, 2011