A Family Man (2016)

  • Time: 108 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Mark Williams
  • Cast: Gerard Butler, Alison Brie, Willem Dafoe, Gretchen Mol, Alfred Molina


After the boss (Willem Dafoe) of a Chicago-based headhunter, Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler), who works at the Blackrock Recruiting agency arranging jobs for engineers, retires, Jensen finally achieves his longtime goal of taking over the company after going head-to-head with his ambitious rival, Lynn Vogel (Alison Brie). However, upon taking over the company he worked so hard to be in control of, Dane’s 10-year-old son, Ryan (Max Jenkins), is suddenly diagnosed with cancer and his professional priorities at work and personal priorities at home begin to clash with one another.


  • There was a time when Gerard Butler showed tremendous promise as an actor rather than a bellowing action star or boorish romantic lead. He was more than fine as a recovering alcoholic serving as a juror on a murder case in the excellent British drama, The Jury, and affecting as a stranger pretending to be a boy’s father in Dear Frankie. It bears reminding because his latest role as a Chicago-based corporate headhunter in A Family Man (originally titled The Headhunter’s Calling) seems a stab at something more substantial than most of the roles he’s taken on during his Hollywood career.

    Unfortunately, his portrayal of cocky son-of-a-bitch Dane Jensen is limited at best, playing so much in one register that he flounders to make the transition required in the later stages of the film. Part of the issue is that, as written, the character is so off-putting and borderline loathsome that it’s virtually impossible to engender any sympathy or interest in his situation. Dane is a ruthless, egomaniacal workaholic made even more determined to work harder when boss Ed Blackridge (Willem Dafoe) dangles the promise of a promotion to whichever team leader brings in the highest commission in the final months of the year.

    Dane has no compunction being cutthroat in his mission to win the promotion over equally crass and callous-hearted competitor, Lynn Vogel (Alison Brie, severely underused). Dane will do everything in his power to bolster his commissions, even using 59-year-old unemployable engineer (Alfred Molina) as a “tracer bullet,” essentially sending him out on interviews to gather information Dane can give to much younger applicants as an advantage. Naturally, this Gordon Gekko-wannabe is bound to learn a very tough and important lesson and that lesson is, to paraphrase Blackridge, it’s not about how much money you make but the kind of life you lead.

    Dane’s macho swagger and 24/7 dedication may be admired in the workplace, but it’s a completely different story on the homefront. Wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) keeps reminding him that he’s missing his kids’ lives. When his eldest son Ryan (Max Jenkins) is diagnosed with cancer, Dane must reluctantly balance his professional and personal duties. On the one hand, Dane’s seeming resistance to resembling an actual human being has a certain admirable quality. Yet, his eventual redemption is so predictable, clumsily handled, and gooped with cheesiness. It also requires the utmost patience and obliviousness from Elise and Ryan, who are both so badly treated by Dane that it’s no small surprise that they still allow him in their lives.

    Mol can’t quite sell Elise’s loyalty to her husband (to be fair, no actress could), but her performance is otherwise imbued with grace and dignity. Molina is excellent in his few scenes, and especially superb in one moment where his character is overwhelmed with relief and elation. Mark Williams’ first-time outing as director displays a talent for the generic and pedestrian.

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  • “Cancer is not a negotiation, Mr. Jensen.”

    In “Olympus has fallen” and “London has fallen” Gerard Butler took care of the president of America and fought against a whole battalion of terrorists. In “A family man” Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler) has to fight other demons. On the one hand there’s his hectic and energy-hungry job as headhunter. A job he lives for and that keeps him occupied for at least 70 hours a week without exception. And on the other hand there’s his charming wife Elise (Gretchen Mol), his son Ryan (Max Jenkins) and daughter Lauren (Julia Butters). A warm family that never lacks anything thanks to Dane’s efforts. On a materialistic level that is. Because each and every one of them craves for the presence of a husband and a father figure. Dane may be physically present but in reality he’s always busy with his work. This results in displeasure and frustration. Dan always acts like a businessman. When Ryan seems to gain weight, he reacts pragmatically. He just gets up at an inhuman hour to go jogging with his son.

    The psychological pressure increases when Dane’s boss Ed Blackridge (Willem Dafoe) announces that he’s thinking of a well-deserved retirement and passes on his position to the person who can present the best annual figures. You don’t have to be a Nostradamus to predict what effect this has on Dan. And then it turns out that Ryan’s overweight is not because of playing “Assassin’s creed” for hours while enjoying loads of snacks. It’s a swollen spleen due to a severe form of leukemia that causes his waistline to increase. Most viewers (including myself) will start rolling their eyes and shake their heads. Not again another sentimental story with that horrible disease as a central theme and the inner conflict certain people will feel. In this case it’s Dan who has to find the right balance between his competitive job and the welfare of his son. And he comes to the realization that no compromises can be made or illegal tricks can be used in such a way that the aggravation of the disease can be avoided.

    The message is crystal clear after a while. The whole karma and “What goes around comes around” principle is really emphatically emphasized. It’s all about that moment when you realize that you shouldn’t take everything for granted and you start realizing what’s really important in life. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dan decided to convert to the monotheistic religion of the Sikhs and move to India to live there as righteous Punjab. The transformation from unscrupulous, senseless workaholic into an insightful family man whose priorities suddenly changed completely, was enormously predictable. But despite that predictability and cheesiness, I couldn’t resist to look at the rest of this über-emotional tearjerker.

    In terms of content it was perhaps very syrupy sweet and not very original. But in terms of interpretation I can only respect Gerard Butler whose acting-past is richly filled with action-rich roles where an elaborated character wasn’t really required. As King Leonidas in “300” and Mike Banning in “London / Olympus has fallen” he only had to be fearless, ruthless and determined. So no complex feelings and character traits. The implausible wasn’t due to his acting performance, but due to a reasonably weak script. The most eye-catching and praiseworthy acting is for Max Jenkins who, despite his young age, delivers an admirable performance. Ryan was portrayed realistically by this young boy. The rest of the cast took care of the no less important roles, but they weren’t not so explicitly in the spotlight. Gretchen Mol as the disgruntled wife (but on the other hand she was in a privileged position thanks to the well-payed job of her husband). Alison Brie, the ravishing rival of Dan. Willem Dafoe as the single, tyrannical CEO whose life was only focused on making loads of money. And Alfred Molino in a modest role as an unemployed engineer at age, who only serves as a toy in Dan’s head hunter’s game.

    I am not a hypersensitive type or over-sentimental, but when a drama with this kind of subject doesn’t not touch me or moves me, then something is wrong. Either it’s totally unbelievable or it’s so predictable. I’m afraid the movie just follows a well-known path without deviating, so that it has little interesting to offer. Towards the end, I said to my wife: “If that little boy wakes up now, I’ll eat my shoe.” Never knew that shoe soles were so chewy.

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