Film review: A Family Man more a matter of proving Gerard Butler’s ability than being a believable story

The whole film feels like an exercise in demonstrating Gerard Butler’s acting range as his character arc takes him from boardroom beast to homely hero.

Gerard Butler in a scene from A Family Man. Photo by Kerry Hayes
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A Family Man

Director: Mark Williams

Starring: Gerard Butler, Alison Brie, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina

Two stars

Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler) is a headhunter for a huge Chicago recruitment firm. He’s the very model of capitalist greed. The people whose livelihood’s he has in his hands are nothing more than stocks and shares to be bought and sold, he recommends Wall Street as a self-help manual to a trainee, he’s the sort of man you can imagine spends his rare days off in front of a mirror repeating the mantra “I’m a tiger. Rawrr”.

When his boss Ed (Dafoe, playing a man whose greed makes Jensen look almost bearable) announces his impending retirement, the workplace stakes are upped even further as Jensen and his colleague Lynn position themselves with equal determination and Machiavellian ploys to take on the role. So far, so boardroom drama with gender battle subtext.

But Jensen also has a wife and kids in the suburbs. His relationship with his wife (Elise, played by Gretchen Mol) is on the rocks thanks to his workaholic tendencies. He’s distanced from his kids, and he’s none too functional in everyday situations either — at one point he remarks to a Sikh doctor that “this isn’t some Third World country, no offence”.

When his eldest son develops possibly fatal leukaemia, Jensen’s life is thrown into turmoil, and his journey from corporate snake to loving family man begins.

At this point the movie Williams has spent half of the 95-minute runtime is swiftly abandoned in favour of a family trauma weepy, but the transition never really works.

Alfred Molina does his best, as an unemployed engineer facing difficulties getting back on the career ladder as, at 59 years old, he’s a “bad investment”, at keeping the two stories linked, but ultimately not enough time or attention is given to either for them to really work.

The whole thing feels like an exercise in demonstrating Butler’s acting range as his character arc takes him from boardroom beast to homely hero. The fact Butler also produced may or may not be related to the fact that, despite a highly able, and criminally underused, supporting cast, the film is very much a Gerard Butler show reel.

There's no shortage of good stories about a fundamentally bad, but saveable, human being undergoing a journey of redemption following a personal tragedy, but A Family Man ignores them all in favour of a clunky, predictable script that is in dire need of redemption itself.

While Jensen doesn’t quite end up working in an orphanage in Calcutta in the movie’s final scenes, it wouldn’t be in the least surprising if he did, and the actual ending is no less surprising, and no less sugar-coated.