THE shock rise in UK unemployment during the last three months of 2010 underlined the difficulties for the labour market in the current recession.
Many of us have friends and family who have endured the stress and uncertainty of redundancy; many more of us are fearful of a similar change to our own professional circumstances.
In his award-winning television shows, writer, director and producer John Wells has deftly chronicled the working lives of ordinary Americans under extraordinary pressure, from members of the emergency services (Third Watch, ER) to various factions of the political establishment (The West Wing).
In The Company Men, he expands his canvas to the big screen and focuses on the well-paid men and women in suits of corporate America, who sit in their plush corner offices, labouring under the illusion that they will be immune from the downsizing.
Times are tough at General Transportation Systems, a company which once proudly built ships to order under the leadership of James Salinger (Craig T Nelson) and Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones).
Now reduced to the acronym GTX, the corporate giant must downsize to keep the shareholders happy and CEO Salinger hires Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello) to identify the thousands of positions that must go to keep the balance sheet in the black.
The cuts are opposed by Gene, who has always put great stock in people.
Family man Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), who has grown accustomed to his Porsche and golf club membership, is axed and bullishly tells his wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) that he will quickly find another job through his network of contacts.
Reality bites and while Maggie economises, Bobby sinks into depression, turning down a job offer from his brother-in-law, Jack Dolan (Kevin Costner), who owns a construction company.
Meanwhile, Gene clashes with Salinger in and out of the boardroom and sixty-something executive Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) learns his fate.
The Company Men is a timely portrait of a world waking up and smelling the coffee of the global recession.
Writer-director Wells doesn’t milk our sympathy, treating his characters with a similar dispassion to GTX as they are flung through the emotional wringer.
Affleck delivers a compelling lead performance as the bread winner, who shudders at the family dinner table when his daughter says grace: “Please help my Dad find a job so he won’t be unhappy all the time.”
Lee Jones and Cooper are solid in support while female characters are largely two-dimensional, providing a voice of reason amid the angst.