"ER" and "West Wing" executive producer John Wells' directorial debut premiered Friday night, after a late start. Stars Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Rosemarie DeWitt and late-comer Ben Affleck (who made it just in time after flying in from the Haiti telethon in L.A.) joined Wells to discuss the film. Tackling the timely subject of the unemployment crisis, "The Company Men" seemed to touch a nerve with many in the packed Eccles Theatre.
Wells and Cooper both shared stories of layoffs affecting people close to them. Jones discussed the idea of a film being "too timely." When asked about the surface similarities between this film and "Up in the Air", Wells revealed that he was worried at first (he found out about the movie from pal George Clooney on the final days of the "ER" set), but was relieved after reading Clooney's personal copy of the script. Wells stated that the economic crisis is big enough to warrant more than one film on the subject, and he's right: "Company Men" and "Up in the Air" are vastly different in tone and subject matter.
The film itself wields a sometimes clumsy narrative and a rather flat look (despite being shot by the great Roger Deakins in and around Boston), but offers some keen insight into the corporate world and solid performances from the leads. Cooper could easily be shortlisted in next year's Oscar race. Affleck, Jones and Cooper all play high-rollin' execs who are laid off from a struggling shipmaking firm, while the smarmy CEO (Craig T. Nelson) pockets $22 million a year. The three men each deal with their personal crises in different ways, some more melodramatic than others. DeWitt does well as Affleck's wife, but she doesn't get the opportunities she was afforded in her breakthrough "Rachel Getting Married" turn. Maria Bello, who wasn't in attendance at the screening, shines as an ice cold HR rep who gradually melts throughout the film. Kevin Costner, also MIA on Friday, does what he can with a small role as Affleck's blue-collar brother-in-law.
It remains to be seen how audiences at large will react to seeing a Porsche-driving young millionaire with the looks of Ben Affleck struggling in the job market. More relatable perhaps, is the quandary which faces Chris Cooper's fifty-something character, suddenly out of a job after decades at a now-obsolete occupation.
[Photo by Olivia Hemaratanatorn]