Cinema Reviews Thoughts

The Company Men

It didn’t find an audience in the US but this drama is a thoughtful depiction of the American workplace during the current recession.

Exploring the contemporary economic malaise through the lens of a fictional Massachusetts company GTX, the story focuses on various employees as they gradually feel the effects of corporate downsizing.

The principle focus is on a cocksure sales guy (Ben Affleck) in his late 30s; his veteran colleague (Chris Cooper) and the company’s co-founder (Tommy Lee Jones) as they all try to deal with the pressures applied by their cost-cutting CEO (Craig T Nelson).

As they have to deal with the soul destroying effects of losing their white-collar livelihoods, they all struggle to cope with unemployment and its impact on their personal and professional lives.

Director John Wells has had an illustrious career in television with megahits like ER and The West Wing, and like those shows his debut feature deals with white-collar workers and contemporary social issues.

Some will criticise the film for not dealing with those lower down the economic food chain, but it is arguably more daring to examine the soured dreams of the American middle class.

Although by no means perfect, it is a restrained but compelling portrait of people coming to terms with the uncertainty and despair following the financial collapse of 2008.

Wells has assembled an excellent ensemble cast: Affleck convincingly displays the arc of a complacent man gradually humbled by circumstance; Rosemary DeWitt is an effective voice of reason and love as his wife; Jones brings a wise, grizzled anger to his part whilst Cooper paints a haunting portrait of an older worker in despair.

The supporting turns are also of a high standard: Nelson makes for a ruthlessly logical boss; Maria Bello is his conflicted hatchet woman; whilst Kevin Costner has his best role in some time as Affleck’s blue-collar brother-in-law who offers him work.

Set in sterile corporate offices or suburban houses, the hiring Roger Deakins as cinematographer was a master stroke: not only does he light these environments with his customary skill and taste, but he also brings a visual elegance to the film which is so well executed you barely notice it.

This is not a film with especially earth shattering revelations, as anyone with a brain can deduce that unemployment leads to misery and despair.

But the screenplay, based on extensive interviews and research, is filled with painfully accurate touches: the outplacement seminars designed to help laid off workers; the corporate obsession with the stock market; the quiet agony of trying to get re-employed, the effects on loved ones and the struggle to re-establish an identity defined by a job.

Coming at time when America and Europe is only just coming to terms with the scope of the late 2000s recession, the film is powerful reminder of the Capitalism gone horribly wrong.

No doubt that is why audiences have largely stayed away from the film, as this is a raw subject, perhaps too close to home for many individuals and families affected by job losses.

There are times when the screenplay and guitar-inflected score reach for sentimental uplift, but overall the message throughout is fairly subversive for a mainstream American film.

Not only does it point out the callow nature of corporate America but also highlights the emptiness of material possessions and shallow thinking that played a part in inflating the sub-prime mortgage bubble.

An unusually bold film, it deserves credit for confronting an issue that will unfortunately be around for some time to come.

> Official site
> Reviews of The Company Men at Metacritic
> Find out more about the late-2000s recession at Wikipedia


Tommy Lee Jones sues Paramount

Actor Tommy Lee Jones has filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures for $10m (£5.7m), which he claims they owe him for his role as Sheriff Tom Bell in last year’s No Country For Old Men.

The Independent have the details:

Jones has filed his lawsuit in Bexar County, San Antonio.

NM Classics Inc, a Dutch subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, is also named in the action, according to The San Antonio Express-News. Jones, who won his only Oscar for his role alongside Harrison Ford in 1993’s The Fugitive, claims that he has not been paid the bonuses he was promised and his initial fee for appearing in the movie was unjustly reduced.

He also claims that a contract was given to him despite the fact it contained several inaccuracies.

The 61-year-old says he signed a contract with NM Classics on 3 April 2006, agreeing to act in the film and to provide “additional related services” for promoting the movie.

In return, the legal papers allege, the company agreed that it would pay Jones a fixed “upfront” fee and, depending on its success, “significant box-office bonuses and ‘back-end’ compensation”.

The vagueness of those promises has returned to haunt the actor. His lawyers claim he was promised “significant” bonuses to compensate him for his reduced fee.

No Country For Old Men was a co-production between Paramount Pictures and Miramax Films, with Paramount largely controlling the film’s release and distribution outside the US.

Jones demanded that he, the Coens and the film’s producer, Scott Rudin, should be entitled to the same treatment and equal shares of the box-office spoils.

Here is the interesting bit, which suggests someone in the Paramount legal department could be in trouble:

But the lawsuit claims that in December 2007, barely a month after the film was released in America, Paramount executives told Jones his contract contained a “mistake” related to “a major issue involving the deduction for home video expenses”.

It also alleges that on 10 January this year, Paramount officials approached Jones again, this time with information about a second major “mistake” in his contract.

The veteran A-lister, whose career has been reinvigorated after a few years in the wilderness, says his “deception” at the hands of Paramount amounts to fraud.

A central plank of his legal action is a claim that Paramount invited him to sign his contract while fully aware of the flaws it contained.

In recent years there have been various high profile Hollywood lawsuits, such as Peter Jackson’s issues with New Line Cinema over The Lord of the Rings, Clive Cussler – the author of Saharasuing the producers of the movie adaptation and Randy Quaid taking on the producers of Brokeback Mountain.

One of the most interesting things about them – if both parties don’t settle – is the juicy details that come out in court.

For instance the Sahara case revealed that the production budget was swelled by bribes to local crew in Morocco, according to USA Today:

Documents cited by the Times also listed 16 “courtesy payments,” “gratuities” and “local bribes” totaling $237,386 in Morocco to expedite filming.

That included a $40,688 payment to stop a river improvement project while filming and $23,250 for “Political/Mayoral support.”

The LA Times also reported this priceless court exchange about how much money the film lost:

Karen Baldwin [an executive producer on Sahara] testified that she believed “Sahara” was on track to make a profit.

“It was No. 1 at the box office when it came out,” she said. “I have heard that over time the film is going to make its money.”

Clive Cussler’s attorney, Bertram Fields, informed Baldwin that financial reports showed that the movie lost more than $100 million.

That would be one of the most massive losses in the history of the film business, wouldn’t it?” Fields asked.

No, not at all,” Baldwin replied.

Tell me a picture that lost more than $100 million.”

Heaven’s Gate.”

Lost more than $100 million, is that your testimony?”

I don’t know.”

Well, why did you just say it?”

The fact that the court case contained better dialogue thatn the movie tells you something about the script, which ten screenwriters were reportedly paid $3.8 million for.

If Jones and Paramount don’t settle will there be anything as entertaining?

> Original article in The Independent about the lawsuit
> Tommy Lee Jones at the IMDb