Working Man is probably one of the most unintentionally timely films ever. What may have been written as a story about job loss and corporate callousness in Middle America suddenly provides more meaning in a time when a different power has snatched away jobs from people eager to work. As such, Working Man will resonate with more audiences than the filmmakers could have hoped for.
It’s the last day for a factory in an unnamed Rust Belt town, and the corporate office has decided to shutter it. Allery Parkes, (Peter Gerety) is the oldest employee and has poured decades of his life into this plastics manufacturing company, standing next to a giant fabrication machine day after day. Without his routine, he seems like a man adrift at sea. He barely speaks to caring wife, Iola (Talia Shire), and he often takes long walks at night alone. One day, Allery decides to go back to work at the closed factory without any power for the machines or pay for his labor. But his actions inspire his community to rally around him and join in his effort to bring back the factory. However, corporate has also taken note of this movement, and they respond in turn.
Does Working Man Work?
Writer/director Robert Jury could never have known that his film about job loss, societal value, and identity would be released at a time when so many workers would be forced out of the workforce. And yet, so many viewers of his film will no doubt understand intimately what it’s like to be willing to work but be unable to. While Working Man presents a horrific narrative, casting an overeager young corporate executive as the villain who seemingly delights in laying people off, the reality for audiences is probably worse. Most viewers probably have jobs – they’re just not allowed to go to them. So, when they see Allery break into his old factory, viewers across all demographics will feel an instant kinship.
In another surprising turn, Working Man presents the factory employees as more than exploited victims of a faceless company. Instead, these are people who seem to genuinely appreciate and enjoy their work. They don’t resent their lot in life but embrace it. They value their work, and their work gives them value. It’s an inspiring display of people who recognize the quiet dignity of having a job and doing it every day.
The casting is mostly wonderful. The factory workers feel less like actors and more like people one would expect to work in a factory. In short, they represent an authentic cross-section of America. Regrettably, the two actors that feel a little out of place are Peter Gerety and (to a lesser extent) Talia Shire. The two of them simply have aged past their roles. Typically, this isn’t worth mentioning because actors are always playing roles outside of their real age, but there comes a time when an actor’s real age begins to interfere with their performance. In Gerety’s case, he trembles visibly and seems slow to react to fellow actors. There are poignant moments that call for a strong emotional delivery, but they end up falling just a little flat. Gerety presents a sympathetic character that’s easy to root for, but it’s obvious that the filmmakers helped him along by minimizing his lines and using judicious editing.
Fortunately, they cast Billy Brown as Walter Brewer, who adds a strong support beam to the entire production. Together with actor J. Salome Martinez, these two men provide much of the dramatic core and thematic communication of Working Man. Without them, it’s hard to see the film being as impactful.
Final Thoughts on Working Man
The American dream has always involved work. Anything can be achieved in this country if one works hard enough. Moreover, the enduring concept of America is that hard work could overcome any shortcomings a person had and be a differentiator in that person’s ultimate path in life. As such, work is part of the national identity. What the country is feeling right now is a loss of that identity. And as audiences watch Allery rage against his new normal, viewers will recognize a lot of themselves in his struggle.