Gerard Butler plays Dane Jensen, a tough-talking corporate headhunter forced to confront his home-life when his son is faced with leukaemia in this weepie that hasn’t exactly had the critics singing its praises (a dreaded 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is hardly a ringing endorsement). Not being particularly fond of these films myself and even less of a fan of Mr. Butler’s work, I have to say… I’ve seen worse.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly saying that this film is a classic in the making or it redeems my faith in our shouty Scottish lead, but in its own cautious and unadventurous way it manages to avoid the pitfalls that have befallen other such sentimental works of recent years whether that be maudlin melodrama (If I Stay) or navel-gazing pretension (Collateral Beauty). For the most part, the film manages to dangle right on the edge of sappiness, just managing to not tip over and despite the film’s rather low profile there are some choice names in casting aside from Butler including Willem Dafoe as Butler’s very Willem Dafoelike boss, Alison Brie as Butler’s workplace rival and Alfred Molina as a desperate client unable to find a job due to his age with Molina also being the strongest in the cast here.
Butler, for what its worth, does give a rather animated performance in a somewhat thankless role. On the one hand, he is given a substantial character arc from a soulless corporate shark/poor father to a decent dad and human being. Hardly a new trajectory for the protagonist of a movie but he’s pulled through the wringer to do so. Throughout he looks haggard and emotionally-exhausted (complimenting his ever-present five-o’-clock shadow) showing that he’s at least committed to his performance even if some of the scenes come off as stilted and awkward.
That beings me on to one of the film’s biggest flaws, common to movies of this type. Again, this film doesn’t quite flounder into the overly-philosophical meanderings of some of its contemporaries but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely without sin. As is so often the case, the film’s attempts at capturing innocent wisdom of the treasured child (tongue firmly in cheek) is definitely laboured. Not to lay this at the feet of child actor Maxwell Jenkins, who is fine, but rather the issue lies in the writing. Children are often smarter and more perceptive than adults but the way they deal with portraying an obviously bright boy with fondness for architecture (in of itself not unusual) is over-reached somewhat with grandiose gestures of faux-profundity.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film however is its length. 105 is not exactly a world-beater when it comes to runtimes but even so, this film can’t really carry it. With the premise being somewhat thin and a pretty solid focus on the emotional rigours of Gerard Butler’s performance, the film does grind a bit when it comes to patience. There is after all only so much concern you can eek out of an audience for your characters until the viewers get bored and this film doesn’t really hit the right notes on character and personality to generate much sympathy or investment.
In spite of its flaws however, A Family Man didn’t have me ripping at my hair with frustration. No it’s not exactly blossoming with inspiration, originality or emotional investment but neither does it particularly infuriate, enrage or irritate with simpering sentiment or hollow musings on the nature of life. It’s a functional film if nothing else. Something to have on in the background if you’re doing something else. I can’t say the film has enriched my life in any particular way but has the backlash been a bit harsh?… Perhaps.
A Family Man is available on Digital Download from Monday, June 5th and DVD and Blu-Ray from Monday, July 3rd; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.