by Nick Holdsworth
KARLOVY VARY, CZECH REPUBLIC — Popular wisdom has it that during a recession, movies that offer escapism do well.
John Wells, the man behind some of America’s biggest hit television series — “ER,” “The West Wing” — turns that wisdom on its head in his feature film debut, “The Company Men,” which debuted at Sundance and opens across the U.S. in late October via the Weinstein Co.
Wells is in Karlovy Vary, the Czech spa town that hosts the eponymous international film festival for the movie’s international premiere.
The film stars Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper in an account of the human cost of an economic crisis that looks at the impact on people who lose their jobs and are forced to reevaluate their lives even as they struggle to pay the bills and find new work.
It’s the sort of gritty drama that Hollywood once did a lot more of and something for which Wells, who as a feature producer has backed feisty indie fare such as Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” prepared meticulously.
“I talked to about a thousand people who had lost their jobs, face to face and via email, to understand the impact a recession has on their lives,” says Wells. “Blue-collar workers were angry at losing their jobs, but did not go through any great identity crisis. White-collar workers tended to identify more with their career and when they lost their jobs they had nothing to show for their lives other than their possessions. There was no sense of having a craft for the white-collar workers.”
IM Global, which is handling sales, says the festival offered a strong opportunity to position the movie for the European market, where not all territories had pre-sold following its Sundance bow.