The Family Man Review

Christmas Eve. Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is a high-flying Wall Street executive, about to close a deal worth telephone-number-size figures. On his way home he stops by at a convenience store just at the moment when Cash (Don Cheadle) is holding the place up at gunpoint as the owner won't believe he has a winning lottery ticket. Jack intervenes, and on the way home Cash offers him a glimpse of what might have been. On Christmas morning Jack wakes up – but he's not in his plush New York apartment any more but in a New Jersey house. He's married to Kate (Téa Leoni), the girlfriend he left thirteen years before. They have two children, Annie (Makenzie Vega) and baby Josh. Jack has a job selling tyres. His old life no longer exists.

The Family Man is a new spin on familiar elements. The theme of redemption by means of what might have been goes back to A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life and, in a different way, Groundhog Day. But Brett Ratner (whose previous film was Rush Hour), screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman, and crew do a thoroughly professional job. This is a film which knows the market it's aiming at, and it hits it. Ratner gets a lot of help from his ace cinematographer Dante Spinotti. Note the use of colder colours in the early New York scenes, which give way to a warmer palette once Jack wakes up in New Jersey, especially some truly eye-popping reds. The use of anamorphic lenses gives the film a soft, romantic look.

This film depends heavily on star charisma. Nicolas Cage is a good choice for the lead: we can take him as a selfish plutocrat early on because we know he'll change for the better, and he's equally adept at comedy and the more sombre parts of the film. Téa Leoni, in her first film after a year's maternity leave, is basically playing straight woman to Cage. She does it well enough, but there's a much more quirky side to her that she showed in less mainstream films (I'm thinking particularly of Flirting with Disaster) that I missed here. There's solid support from the rest of the cast, as you might expect, and Makenzie Vega is a talented child actress.

The Family Man isn't without its flaws: like many such movies, it's about a quarter-hour too long. Some of the jokes are rather obvious (yes, Jack does change the baby's nappy) but there are enough sharp lines in the script to prevent things from getting too sticky. Like most romantic comedies, it's quite predictable, but that's beside the point: it's not the getting there that counts, but how he and she get there. And as such, The Family Man makes for a very pleasant couple of hours. (Incidentally, the film itself carries a 12 certificate: a couple of swear words in the extras up the DVD rating to a 15.)

This being an EIV disc, many people will have issues with the package design. As for the disc, it's good but not spectacular. The aspect ratio is 2.35:1 and the DVD transfer is anamorphic. As you should expect for such a recent film, it's as good as it should be, colourful with solid blacks and those vivid reds, and only let down by some instances of aliasing. It's not ultra-sharp, but that's down to the original film: tough and gritty this is not intended to be.

The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1. It begins with a rear-and-subwoofer showcase, as an aeroplane takes off. Otherwise, it's a foursquare pro job, with much surround activity due to Danny Elfman's score, mixed high as is usual for many mainstream movies like this. There are no subtitles and sixteen chapter stops, not really adequate for a two-hour film. The final chapter runs for twenty minutes!

The packaging boasts of 66 minutes of extras. That's as maybe, but none of them are very spectacular. Much of it is electronic presskit material. First off is the trailer, in non-anamorphic 1.85:1. It's lengthy (2:20) and looks very contrasty. It's one of those trailers that is scored to music not actually in the film, here Talking Heads's "Once in a Lifetime". The making-of featurette is in non-anamorphic 16:9 and runs 19:49.much of which is made up of clips from the film itself. This is as bland as you might expect. There are soundbites from Cage, Leoni, Cheadle, Piven, Ratner and producer Marc Abraham, many of which turn up in the featurette as well. The outtakes (8:48) include a demonstration of how Cage and Piven can't complete a shot without both of them bursting out laughing. There are nine deleted, or in one case extended, scenes, running 13:31 in total. As usual, these are nice to have, but you can see why they were cut out of a film which is still overlong as a result. Finally, there's a music video, Seal's "This Could Be Heaven" (4:30). It's only worth watching more than once if you like the song (an anodyne ballad to these ears) and again it contains quite a few clips from the film. The last three extras are all in non-anamorphic 2.35:1.

According to the back cover, this Christmas DVD has two Easter Eggs. After much searching and consultation of Easter Egg websites, I could only find one. Go to the extras menu, the down to "main menu" at the bottom, then press the Right button on your remote. This will highlight a patch of snowflakes. Press Enter and you get 40 seconds of further outtakes edited together, of various characters saying Jack Campbell's name. Rather pointless: it's in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 and is also timecoded.

The Family Man is very decent warm-hearted entertainment, well enough made and not too mawkish. For fans of romantic comedies with a fantasy twist, or of the stars, it's a worthwhile purchase, particularly as you can probably find it discounted to £10 or less.

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Last updated: 14/06/2018 07:08:25

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