Who's In It: Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kevin Costner
The Basics: Affleck, Cooper and Jones are three corporate executives who, one by one, lose their extremely high-paying jobs. For Affleck, it becomes a lesson in giving up his country club membership, swallowing his pride, going to work for his condescending blue-collar brother-in-law (Costner), and discovering what's really important. For Jones it's about late-mid-life crisis and cringing over his wife buying a $16,000 table for the study. Cooper is the character relegated to the meltdown of rage and despair. Think of it as this year's Oscar-hopeful movie about being fired, an Up in the Air without the satire or the characters that you ever find yourself liking very much in the first place, one that asks the question, "What's worse? Being unemployed or watching a film about it?"
What's The Deal: In his attempts to treat his characters with a kind of benign sympathy and fairness, writer/director John Wells (ER, The West Wing) mostly neglects to explore the idea that, before being fired, all of these guys were part of the problem. It allows Kevin Costner's character to be the voice of the working class, the one whose job it is to throw out statistics about high-level white-collar salaries running about 700 times the national average. But overall it's more or less content to focus on Affleck's personal redemption while delivering just a few pointed nods to the bigger picture. If you want that you can watch Inside Job or the strangely agitated closing credits of The Other Guys, the ones with the pie charts and the sense of economic injustice the movie wasn't even really about.
Up In The Air-iest Part: The scenes of a "holding pen" post-work office where the redundancies learn resume-building and chant empowering "I can do it!" slogans are bizarre and I hope they don't exist like that in real life.
Weirdest Undercurrent: Because the characters are male, the movie ties together thematic strands about self-worth and the way that men's jobs and their ability to provide are tied to their sense of masculinity. But it's got something else on its mind, too, something it hasn't thought through enough. There's a definite sense that Costner's character is not only the one guy with the moral compass, but that his work--construction--is also the only employment in the film that's truly "real." And no one ever said that people who work for banks or brokerage houses are handcrafting hope chests they sawed the tree for themselves, but the movie seemingly can't decide whose team it's on, salt-of-the-earth blue-collars or the bourgeoisie.
Who's The Most Fun To Watch: Okay, "fun" might be the wrong choice of words but Chris Cooper's violently hopeless exec who misses the days of $500 lunches and who threatens to take an AK-47 on a field trip to his former employer is the most nervous-making person on screen, even though you can guess right away how he's going to end up.