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Fast-talking, high-pressure offices in movies have always had this odd sort of appeal, with actors in the finest suits on the phone jibber-jabbing away with nonsensical dialogue that make us convinced they know what they are doing, even though for certain, somehow, it’s gonna coming crashing down. It’s part and parcel to the trade. So it’s no surprise when A Family Man kicks off and we see one such office high atop a skyscraper and get a whiff of a man winning over something or other with his gibberish blue-streak, knowing one hundred percent he’s about to get tested.
That man is Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler), a top headhunter at a prestigious firm run by Ed Blackridge (Willem DaFoe) who is looking to move someone into a general manager position as he deals with is “inner Kerouac”. It would seem Dane’s a lock but he’s got competition in the form of Lynn Vogel (Alison Brie), a talented wordsmith herself with an eye on the prize and now the two are off to the races. Only problem is, it starts to distract Dane from his family, including his wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) and his three children. And when his oldest boy Ryan (Maxwell Jenkins) gets sick, diagnosed with leukemia, his loyalties are slowly frayed and he realizes he’s got to become the father he really needs to be as his son faces a possible unfulfilled life.
Directed by Mark Williams, A Family Man is a film on rails, its premise and presentation one we’ve seen before and while it’s peppered with some truly good things, including direction and a few strong performances, the story is altogether too smarmy as it efforts greatly to be a crowd-pleasing tear-jerker. It works like a machine to live up to the standards with a blistering opening act that sets up Dane to be the callous and insensitive workaholic who runs his branch of the office like a bull, whipping up recruits with aggressive orders and generally working hard to be the oafish uncaring man he needs to be so the second act can work more effectively. Fortunately, it’s all mostly believable if not exaggerated, and honestly, necessary in achieving the expected arc. Butler is surrounded by great supporting characters, most especially Mol as his needful wife, and the film perhaps best captures the real heartbreak she suffers as the stay-at-home mom struggling to take care of her family with an absentee father.
Butler is a fine actor and has made a career out of being an action star, despite a few less-than-successful offshoots into romantic comedies and dramas, but here he goes full tilt, even executive producing the film and he’s in nearly every scene, showing off all facets of what he can do. Admittedly, he has a charm about him and there are some moments that earn their emotional payoff, though none truly reach much more beyond the tropes of the genre. The film plots its course from hotspot to hotspot, checking off a long list of manipulative checkpoints in making sure we see Dane learn from his past, realizing the value of what he has at home compared to the money he’s obsessed with making. Butler can’t quite pull it off, but who really could without making it all feel so saccharine? Predictable and mostly unchallenging, A Family Man is a little too on the nose to really make it matter.
Movie description: A Family Man is a 2017 drama about a headhunter whose life revolves around closing deals in a survival-of-the-fittest boiler room, battling his top rival for control of their job placement company.
Director(s): Mark Williams
Actor(s): Alison Brie, Gerard Butler, Willem Dafoe