Gerard Butler chooses between the top job and his family in a modern morality tale
Mark Williams’ debut film as a director was known as The Headhunter’s Calling when it was screened at Toronto last year. And, while he’s gone on to produce Ben Affleck in The Accountant, it remains his only time at the helm – except that the movie’s been given a new name for its arrival on digital download.
And titles don’t get much more generic than A Family Man, one that gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect from this modern day morality tale. Head hunter Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler) works in a boiler room company, closing deals left right and centre and when bullying boss Ed (Willem Dafoe) decides to retire, the top job is dangled in front of him – on the condition that he out-performs rival Lynn Vogel (Alison Brie). At the same time, his eldest son is diagnosed with leukaemia, so he’s faced with a choice: career or family.
Which means it doesn’t just have a generic title, it’s also a generic film, tackling an all-too-familiar subject but, in truth, having little new to say about it. That doesn’t make it an especially bad film, just an unremarkable one. Butler’s Jensen is good at his job – and he knows it – but he also comes to realise that, despite providing a good life for his family, he’s not been the husband and father he should. Wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) still adores him, but is frustrated by always being second best to the job and he doesn’t cover himself with glory as far as the kids are concerned by missing Hallowe’en. Under the circumstances, it’s a minor miracle that the couple have managed to produce three children.
His team of head hunters seem to be labouring under the illusion that they’re Wall Street traders. They behave in exactly the same way – pushy, aggressive, talking loudly on the phone and ringing a large bell when they close a deal. And there’s an early scene where one of them is fired that is more than a little reminiscent of Margin Call, but without the same consequences. Jensen’s advice to a new protégé is to “watch Wall Street, Godfathers 1 and 2, but not 3,” but, for some unaccountable reason, there’s no mention of The Wolf Of Wall Street.
Lingering in the background is one of his clients, Lou (Alfred Molina), an unemployed engineer in his late 50s who nobody wants to take on because of his age. He plays a key part in the morality set-up and also bags easily the most touching scene in the film. But the real light bulb moment arrives when Jensen’s son becomes seriously ill: as you’d expect, it’s hardly subtle but it is reasonably effective and, even though Butler’s accent is as grating as ever, your heart would have to be 100% granite not to have at least some sympathy for him.
What A Family Man lacks in originality and plot – everything is wrapped up far too neatly at the end – it at least partly makes up for in its performances, especially from Molina and Dafoe, who doesn’t want to know about anything that won’t put money in his pocket. But you might want to think twice about using a recruitment consultant for your next career move.
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