Movie Review: The Company Men

Two men, James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) and his friend and college roommate Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) started a shipbuilding company a long time ago. At first they worked on the shop floor, building little ships, then bigger ones, and today the company is a huge conglomerate named GTX with $19 billion in annual sales.

Stock price and shareholder return are important. Building ships seems to have lost its meaning. The company seems to move papers from in-baskets to out-baskets. People spend time in meetings talking about what divisions to shut down.

Then the axes fall. Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) loses his job. He drives a Porsche he can’t afford, he lives in a house three times the size he needs. His family lives the good life.  He realizes quickly that all the trappings were dependent solely on his keeping his job.

This is a depressing movie for the most part. The cast is strong, including Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones. Corporate greed is shown in disproportion to real working families. The bosses order layoffs and fly home in corporate jets. The workers build houses in Boston in the winter, one nail at a time.

It seems like the real work, the honest work, is work where something is actually created, built or constructed. Houses, for one. Ships, for another. But in our modern world, it seems to be all about eyeballs, sales quota, stock prices and dividends. What are we building?

This movie was thought-provoking, scary, depressing, and somehow at the end uplifting. It made me want to drop the desk job, pick up the carpenter belt and get to work again.

It made me be grateful for having done plenty of such real work – so at least I know what I am talking about.

Rating: ** 1/2.

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