A mostly positive day of films at Sundance concluded at the Eccles theater Friday night with the directorial debut of John Wells' "The Company Men." Wells, the creator of such critically acclaimed TV shows as "ER" and "The West Wing," also wrote the original screenplay which focuses on the systematic dismantling of a giant construction corporation in the Boston, Mass. area. While a tad long, the strength of the film lies in the performances of leading men Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper and will surely lead to a swift acquisition from any number of major players.
All three men suffer from corporate downsizing during the film, but Affleck's character, who is living the high life as a VP of Marketing (he drives a porsche, enjoys his golf club, etc.), is the first to be let go and deal with the ups and downs of trying to find a new job in the current economy. What's refreshing about his storyline is that his wife, played by "Rachel's Getting Married's" Rosemarie DeWitt, is the only one in the family who realizes how difficult his search will be and that their rich lifestyle will have to drastically change. It's hard to have sympathy at first for Affleck's ego-driven character, but Wells puts him through a realistic enough ringer that a good chunk through the movie you're hoping he can turn it around (at least for his family's sake). It also helps that Affleck avoids the "woe is me" card as much as possible in his portrayal. The frustration is there, but this is no Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido in "Nine" whining going on.
Cooper may give the finest performance of all three "leads" as a longtime employee who has risen through the ranks from the shipyard to the corporate suite only to find himself searching for a new gig in his late 50's. Rarely off, Cooper once again adds subtlety to a role that could have been an easy cliche by even the finest of actors.
As the only member of upper management who is frustrated by the new cold-hearted nature of the company he was the first employee off, Jones gives one of his more endearing turns in some time. And when he flips on the good old' "cantankerous" Jones we all know from a mile away, it's necessary and welcomed by the circumstances.
Besides DeWitt's noteworthy supporting role, Kevin Costner is superb as Affleck's blue-collar brother-in-law and Maria Bello adds a good deal of shading to her role as Jones' eventual lover and the company's Human Resources terminator.
As noted, "Company's" biggest fault is its just a tad too long. In fact, if Wells is willing to shorten it a bit it could be an even stronger film overall. Nonetheless, the subject matter is so timely the picture should strike a chord in adult audiences across the country and is why different studios -- beyond just mini-majors and independents -- may be interested in this quality flick.
A bigger question becomes release date. Does "Company" try to hit while the economy fire is hot (or not so) over the next few months or wait until the fall when the performances could gain some awards consideration? It's not an understatement to say Cooper could get attention during the next awards season cycle and Wells screenplay may have some fans as well. But politically and topically, it's hard not to see a distributor wanting it to hit theaters as soon as possible.
And for fans of strong acting and smart storytelling, "Company" will be one not to miss.
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