“The Office” TV series aside, these must-see movies about life at work are: “The Big Short,” “The Intern,” “Steve Jobs,” “Wall Street” and “Blue Collar.” While “The Office” satirized the 9-to-5 wackiness of life in the office, few feature films attempt to probe the impact of personal ambition, corporate behavior and ethical challenges on the job. These five movies attempt to do the job and be entertaining, too.
The devastating 2008 recession is pretty much behind us, like a bad dream. But many Americans still struggle to get out from under the aftermath of underwater mortgages, high consumer debt and big job losses. “The Big Short” is a return to the netherworld of predatory lending practices, a high debt ceiling, the subprime mortgage crisis and residential foreclosures. The action is bundled into a chain of events leading to a forewarned but unexpected financial collapse. In “The Big Short,” enterprising financiers capitalize on “what the banks fail to do.” Together, they concoct (they hope) a well-executed scheme to “short” subprime commercial paper, mortgages and other debt instruments when their monetary value is at its peak. Many junk bonds are afloat and so are personal lives, of course. Actor Brad Pitt is an award nominee.
Anyone who fervently dreams of retirement should probably reconsider. After turning in their office supplies for golf clubs, many retirees get homesick for the workplace. But how does a retiree of a certain age make a comeback when faced with diminishing opportunities and a changing job market? Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is a 70ish widower who does just that when he interns for 20-something Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) in “The Intern.” People may grow older but experience never dies.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was an enigma to those closest to him and those who worked at Apple. The biopic “Steve Jobs” probes his inner life to extract the personal tribulations that made him the man he became. His real life biography is wrenching and full of personal trials that cannot be captured in a single film shot or dialogue. Nonetheless, the movie is engrossing.
In the 1987 movie, “Wall Street,” Michael Douglas was a cinematic tour de force as Gordon Gekko, a tycoon and corporate raider perhaps loosely modeled on T. Boone Pickens. In the 2010 sequel, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” the disgraced Gekko still has the fire but a more mature Douglas has a modified octane level. The real T. Boone Pickens now manages a hedge fund and engages in charitable work.
Most movies about the workplace center on the white collar professional. “Blue Collar,” released in 1978, is an intensely gritty look at Detroit auto workers. In the opening scene, workers drill, hammer and weld together the auto parts for new cars. The late comedy star and actor Richard Pryor, cast in a dramatic role, steals the show from co-stars Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto. The three commit a heist at union headquarters and discover a ledger they intend to use for union blackmail. Their scheme falls apart when Zeke (Richard Pryor) is convinced to betray his companions in exchange for a promotion to supervisor. “How did you get your job?” Jerry (Harvey Keitel) asks Zeke in a demanding tone as they square off to a climatic finale.
If starting a first job or at a career mid-point, these movies are a fictional study of organizational behavior, based on actual case histories. If one of the fortunate few who has never punched a time clock or filled in a time sheet, you don’t know what you’re missing.