Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Company Men

The company men is about the effects of ruthless corporate capitalism in the changing global economy and recession. The Chairman/Chief Executive manages to take home $22 million in the year in which he is required to down size in order to raise the share price in the face of a take over threat. He gives the impression of wanting to stay on at the head of the company he has built with right hand man and deputy, Gene LcClary played by the great Tommy Lee Jones. When all his down sizing fails and the company is acquired he nets $600 million from his stock options.

Tommy Lee helped build up the company from the ship building and repair division which take the brunt of the initial cost cutting because it is an area where the world market had changed, Among those who go in the first tranch is head sales man Bobby Walker played by Ben Affleck.

He is as self confident and often distant from his wife and children because of the requirements of the job, enjoying his fast car and condescending towards his brother in law who runs a small four man businesses repairing buildings. When he is suddenly told he is laid off with a severance package which involve placement with a job finding agency he is sufficiently self confident to tell his wife (who immediately understand the implications) that they can continue with their lifestyle and that the news should be kept from their children, his parents and her brother. He slowly learns the reality of the position and eventually is driven to accepting a labouring job with his brother in law and to moving in with his parents. He is humiliated and depressed but his wife comments that when he comes home now he is with them and he is able to spend time with his children, The film depicts something of the life led by those with the job search agency and the bond which develops between them. The brother in law is played by an aging Kevin Costner who had his own problems keeping the business afloat working all hours but this is normal way of life made more difficult because of the recession. Affleck does get an offer out of the blue, takes time off and raises the money for the flight only to find the appointment is arranged for the following week and the film gives the impression that for this and other reasons he gives the interview a miss.

The position of Tommy Lee Jones is different. For him the issue is not one of money or lifestyle as such or having a job per se but the end of something which he had made his life’s work and which provided incomes for a large workforce. It is evident he has become detached from his wife and family and prefers the company of his mistress who work as the Human Sources Director and it is her job to work out who should go in as fair a way as possible within he financial parameters and need to retain those who are able to take the organisation forward.

Jones put up a fight for another older colleague in his 50’s who he has no since working together on the shipyard floor. When the man is unable to cope and commits suicide it brings home to everyone the cost of what is happening and significantly the CEO does not attend the funeral. Eventually his mistress also arises to advise him of his own separation package as further cuts are made and the impact of this is for him to leave home and move in with his mistress who is still employed by the corporation,
It after the funeral that Jones takes Affleck to the site of the original but now derelict ship yard and administration offices and talks about the past. Once he realises his share capital which presumably also runs into the hundreds of millions he established his own company with and appropriate front office but we then see Affleck leaving for work in the old yard offices with a small team all colleagues from the job search bureau telling them to hire 100 of the former team trade union consultations and in the harbour a tug is moving in a vessel for refit and repair.

The film could be said to provide in dramatic form the reality of the recession and changing industrial and manufacturing condition but also the messages that if you have any job you should be grateful and accept whatever conditions and restrictions are imposed and that if you work hard and are prepared to risk capital then the American dream lives on. In effect it is an endorsement of capitalism and corporate behaviour rather than a condemnation. I have in mind the original Wall Street in this respect.

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