Review by Nathan Samdahl (B)
What a year Ben Affleck is having. Rising from a rather grisly early 2000s (remember Gigli, Daredevil and Paycheck? Better yet, don't), Affleck is on the road to establishing himself once again as one of the foremost talents in Hollywood. The Town still stands as one of the strongest films of the year, besting Affleck's previous strong directing outing with Gone Baby Gone. His performance in the former film is also excellent as well.
Continuing that momentum in The Company Men, Affleck delivers another nuanced and relatable performance as a rising hotshot who suddenly finds himself fired from the job he thought was secure. As the company undergoes an operational overhaul many other employees are let go, particular some of the company's eldest leaders. Faced with a nearly nonexistent job market, Affleck and the others must find a way to overcome their grim situation and get back on their feet.
The film, the debut directing effort from John Wells (Producer of "The West Wing"), is extremely relevant to today, but without feeling like you are being hit by a sledgehammer (no Oliver Stone here). Each character is complex and developed and no one feels like a simple cardboard cutout designed solely to deliver some didactic message. The story is touching, funny, sad and in some ways provides the flip perspective of the comparable film Up in the Air. These guys are the ones Clooney fires.
Even if the story does not completely grab you, it is hard to go wrong with the incredible cast which in addition to Affleck includes Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Craig T. Nelson, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello and Rosemarie Dewitt. This movie reminds me why Chris Cooper should probably be in every film (well, except for The Tempest). Even Costner, who has had a rough go of it in recent years, delivers; as the blue collar brother of Affleck's wife, he is perhaps the most accessible character in the story.
It is hard to say how this film will fare moving into the competitive awards season. The film's strong ensemble is both key to the success of the film, but will probably hold it back award-wise in favor of more stand-alone performances. It most likely will also prevent it from having the widespread success of Up In The Air.
The execution of the film is, overall, strong, but some minor flaws here and there keeps The Company Men from being placed in the upper tier of films given the strength of entries such as Black Swan, 127 Hours and the most-likely-to-be-great True Grit (The Coen Brothers' frequent cinematography collaborator Roger Deakins lends his hand to The Company Men as well). Even if this film does get a bit overlooked in the months to come, The Company Men remains one of the more touching stories I've seen this year and is well worth the watch.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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