The current global recession is fertile ground for inspiration for filmmakers, writers and artists, and already we are beginning to see films that explore this theme. Margin Call was the story of the origins of the current financial crisis and The Company Men is about the fallout. Released in 2010, it tells the story of colleagues in the GTX corporation who must deal with the effects of downsizing and it boasts an impressive cast.
Ben Affleck plays Bobby Walker, a married man with two children who has been earning a six figure salary and has been with the company for over a decade. Kevin Costner plays Bobby’s obnoxious brother in law, a resolutely blue collar construction worker who is dismissive of Bobby’s office job. Chris Cooper plays Phil Woodward, a senior manager approaching 60 who started out on the factory floor and made his way up through the company. Tommy Lee Jones is Gene McClary, the CEO’s best friend and right hand man who begins to query his boss’s priorities with regards to his staff, and Maria Bello is the senior HR Manager Sally Wilcox who is responsible for firing hundreds of people in the downsizing and who must deal with the consequential guilt.
The Company Men is a realistic look at the effects of redundancy and unemployment on these men, how disenfranchised and emasculated they feel. It shows each man’s individual struggle to overcome his personal sense of failure – as Phil Woodward says about his firing, “My life ended and nobody noticed.” When Bobby arrives home after being made redundant we see his house through his eyes; once a source of pride and a visible measure of his success, it’s now a collection of expensive possessions that require constant cashflow and will be a millstone around his neck.
The film is the directorial debut of West Wing writer John Wells and he also wrote the screenplay and produced. The Company Men concludes on something of an upbeat note as Hollywood must, but for many of the real Company Men out there unemployed in America, Ireland and many other countries, no such happy ending is in sight.
I went to see Extract last weekend knowing absolutely nothing about it. Extract, written and directed by Mike Judge, stars Jason Bateman as Joel Reynolds, the owner of a factory which makes extracts used in cooking, hence the title. Joel is dissatisfied with his marriage and his best friend, Dean, played by Ben Affleck (sporting some very Russell Brand hair extensions), tries to help Joel with the aid of bad advice and drugs. Joel wants to have an affair with Cindy, a sexy young woman who works at his factory, but would feel guilty about cheating on his wife, so Joel and Dean come up with a plan to have a gigolo seduce Joel’s wife so he can then have an affair with Cindy with a clear conscience.
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Well it is, and not in a good way. The plot of this film seems random and hardly compelling enough to base a feature length film on. The viewer never gets on board with the characters enough to overlook this huge flaw and in particular the character of Joel seems shallow and unsympathetic. The best things about the movie are the performances of the minor characters, Cindy played by Mila Kunis and Brad played by Dustin Milligan. The opening scene showing Cindy’s grifting skills in a guitar shop is great and Mila Kunis really shines.
Extract isn’t a film I would recommend, being slight and not very funny. Perhaps it would have been better as a short film, forcing the writer and director to strengthen his ideas and characters, but at 92 minutes it’s a waste of film.