With Matt Damon fresh off a career-defining gold stoney award and The Town failing to even snare a nomination, I knew I had to give my boy Affleck a chance to fire back. The problem, of course, is that Affleck has a tendency to misfire. We don’t need to re-hash his gruesome rap sheet here*. His movies are almost always bad. But I’ve always thought he handled his celebrity well (marriages aside). Maybe I’m imagining it, but there seems to be a tongue-in-cheek aspect to his acting, like he’s always suppressing a grin. I think he kind of knows he’s a joke, and is OK with it. That’s my read. Of course I don’t know the man, so I could be way off on this.
*Actually, lets have some fun with this. I’m going to name all the bad Affleck movies I can remember off the top of my head. Daredevil. Changing Lanes. The Sum of All Fears. Gigli. Jersey Girl. Pearl Harbor. Reindeer Games. Armageddon. Bounce. He’s Just Not That Into You. Kevin Smith. What did I miss?
Damon is pretty clearly the better actor, but I’ve always felt he took himself a bit more seriously, too. True Grit was awesome, but what about Hereafter, Green Zone and The Adjustment Bureau? That’s what else he’s been up to in the last year. Damon gets the good actor cred, but he’s dropped more than his fair share of stinkers too. For most of the past ten years I’ve found him to be boring and overrated. Now I’m starting to re-think that (obviously his stint on 30 Rock helped).
So who does the SFC officially support? I headed to the 10pm Tuesday showing of The Company Men with that very question weighing heavily on my stoney mind. There was so much at stake…..
This movie kind of flew under the radar, right? A little surprising, given the cast. Aside from the aforementioned Affleck, there’s Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper, Tommie Lee Jones, Craig T. Nelson. Not the most current of stars, maybe, but still more than most movies are packin’. Surely that group would be right in our parents’ wheelhouse. And really, I think almost anyone I know could find someone to respect on that list. Costner and T-Nels are both hilarious and Chris Cooper does good work. I could see not liking Tommie Lee Jones (I’m not sure I do), but all in all this is an appealing cast. It’s what brought me to the theater when I could’ve just given the DVR’ed Serenity another roll in the hay.
The plot centers around corporate downsizing and how it affects those downsized. It’s supposed to hit home and be relatable for obvious reasons. The problem is, at first I couldn’t really bring myself to identify with any of these guys. Yes, they lost their jobs and yes, they feel immense pressure to pay their bills and provide for their families. But if you make the choice to chase dollars and spend them in the nature depicted, I got no pity for you. Huge houses, nice cars and multiple children don’t happen by themselves. They are the result of choices made.
I guess my real issue is that when I look at some dude in a tie working at a job in finance or whatever, I wonder how he got there. Was that what he really wanted to do with his life? Move numbers and papers around? Or did he end up there in pursuit of the most money possible at all costs? If it’s the latter, well, there just isn’t really a situation where losing that job can make me feel sorry for him. Get in a gross world, and gross things may happen to you. Those are the ropes.
Don’t get me wrong, I have businessman friends. Plenty of them. I don’t begrudge them their careers. I’m just not going to have much of a reaction when I hear _____ got fired from Globucorp. If a guy opens a restaurant or starts a business and it fails? Them I will feel for. As a matter of fact I’m always a little bummed when any local business closes, even if I never went there. When the tattoo parlor with the confederate flag shuttered its windows I was like, “I’m gonna miss those guys.” The legions of law school graduates and MBAs struggling to find work don’t elicit the same feelings.
Another issue is that most of these characters just weren’t that likable. Affleck is a prick, Cooper is a creep, Jones’ face looks weird. The only one I consistently liked was Costner, and a lot of that was because he played a contractor a la my boys The Mask and Ol’ Nuts. Whenever they’d show him and his crew working my inner monologue would say “thats like what the Mask and his crew does.” Work gloves and such. Stuff I wish I could do but know I’ll never pull off. I don’t even own a screwdriver. My toolkit is a hammer and these scissors:
Affleck is the character whose journey is followed the closest. Technically he shares “main character” duties with Jones, but its him you’re meant to identify with. Jones is already old and rich. Affleck gets laid off early on and the movie, at its core, is about how he deals with it.
At first I didn’t like the way they played this. He basically alternates between pouting and pretending nothing is wrong. He’s indignant. And even as his savings run out and his wife has to return to work (which he, naturally, OPPOSES!), he refuses to acknowledge reality. This was overdone. I’ve got to blame writer/director John Wells. He’s worked mostly in television, and it shows. There were casual mistakes throughout the film that really threw off the rhythm. Or at least, prevented it from ever pushing through and accessing the viewer’s emotions as only the best dramas can. Not huge, embarrassing errors, but little stuff. When Affleck eats lunch with Costner and his crew one afternoon, he does so 20 feet away by himself and with his head down, like a 10-year-old at lunch. This is meant to convey his separateness, but Wells goes too far with it. A mistake he makes repeatedly. This is clearly a guy who is used to working in prime-time television. There’s a scene featuring Rosemarie DeWitt (who I really liked otherwise) rubbing lotion on her legs that is just bizarre. It’s like something you’d see on Desperate Housewives.
In the end though, Affleck’s journey wins you over. He becomes a character you pull for, and the transformation isn’t less satisfying for having happened slowly. Personally, I do have a hard time believing real downsized executives behave as he initially did, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter. This is a story, after all. One that slowly draws you in, in a way that you hardly even notice. It was a 2-hour personal progression from skeptical to absorbed. It was only as it neared the end that I realized the movie had won me over.
Put real actors to work in a real drama and I’m probably going to like it. Give me a storyline other than “boy meets girl” and I’m probably going to like that, too. The Company Men does both. A better director probably could’ve done more with it, but Wells wrote it too, so I can’t really begrudge him his control. Still, this movie really would’ve been well served by a set of fresh eyes just before they called it quits. A few key edits could’ve taken it from “kinda good” to “pretty good.” A massive jump, that.
As for Affleck, he will remain my boy. I actually think this may have been some of his best work as an actor. I sort of forgot I was watching him after a while. My inner monologue stopped repeating “Affleck” after he said or did anything. Look, I know he’s got a huge head and he married J-Lo and he’s from Boston. All horrible things*. And Damon did just win that gold stoney.
*If I had a normal-sized head I’d be running this town. People find big heads annoying. Its fine, I get it.
Still, I prefer Affleck. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen.