A FAMILY MAN: Gerard Butler’s Failed Attempt To Shed His Action Hero Image
Gerard Butler's attempts to shake off his action hero image in A Family Man are commendable, but he is miscast in this saccharine drama.
It is often the case where we take things for granted, until those things are threatened or taken away altogether. The successful and fast paced life of headhunter Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler) is abruptly interrupted by a life changing reversal of fortune, as the affluent, middle class family man with a workaholic lifestyle is forced to change his priorities. A Family Man is undertaking the task that many films have attempted but rarely achieved in this regard. But the hedonistic behavior, with visits to strip clubs and excessive consumption of drinking and drugs often over saturates and renders the narrative as largely unrelatable and self-serving.
Life in the boardroom is heavily reminiscent of what you’d expect from a 1980’s film set in the world of business; a flurry telephone calls, inflated chests and immaculate wall street suits. After a long and tiring day at the office, he then heads home to his wife, Elise (Gretchen Mol) and three children; Laura (Julia Butters) Ryan (Max Jenkins) and Nathan (Ethan McIver-Wright). Due to his limited doting, his family yearns for more. That is until his son is diagnosed with leukaemia and his chances of survival are limited.
The Evolution of an Actor: A Butterfly Effect
Directed by Mark Williams, A Family Man falls in the grey area of the spectrum – enjoyable at times but falling into the preconceived pitfalls that so many similar films have. The direction and accompanying cinematography by Shelley Johnson works well and enhances the onscreen presence. The supporting cast shine throughout A Family Man, including the likes of Alison Brie, Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe, whereas the leading man feels miscast.
Perhaps he has fallen victim to his own blockbuster success as an action hero. Whilst he has attempted to traverse into the field of more heartwarming stories like Playing for Keeps and PS I Love You, many critics maintain he is better suited to remain within his more befitting persona. Evidently, Butler believed in the project and invested himself in the role both personally and professionally – as both an actor and with an executive producer credit, due to his efforts in assisting in the films production.
An actor’s successful transcendence in genre portrayal can be both exciting and intriguing to watch. In more recent years, a notable example would be Matthew McConaughey. His introduction to the film industry came in the form of coming of age stoner comedy, Dazed and Confused. After a decade of experimenting with a variety of roles in both television and film, McConaughey began making strides in the rom-com and action field with lead roles in The Wedding Planner, Sahara and Failure to Launch.
It wasn’t until 2011 that he really began to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor for his role in The Lincoln Lawyer. From this film and new found persona, McConaughey began to attract both box office and critical acclaim, working with some of the world’s best directors on both screens big (such as a lead role in Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar) and small (Cary Fukunaga‘s True Detective).
Unfortunately, Butler has yet to successfully reach the success of McConaughey. Although, it is worth nothing that the triumphant metamorphosis took place over twenty years. The main problem being left with this kind of role is that the actor has to dazzle in every scene, otherwise they become awkward and lifeless. As a result, you fantasise about who could have done the role better, rather than getting lost in its 108 minute running time.
In counter to the quiet thoughtful scenes, his business-like ‘man of the world’ is lacklustre, in which he is pitted against his colleague played by Brie. He instead comes across as browbeaten, instead of possessing a devilish charisma that was perhaps would be more fitting. His performance carried neither in the work nor the home scenes, with Mol underpinning his performance.
Religion: A Manifestation of Karma?
One of the more remarkable scenes of A Family Man is when Dr Singh (Anupam Kher) remarks that theological questions are commonplace when dealing with terminal illnesses at such a young age. In an attempt to perhaps simplify for Ryan’s young mind is that all religions share a common ideology, regardless of whom the deity is, that they are all an essence of karma. This strengthens and ultimately, overpowers Butler’s moralistic journey compared to all of the other minor narratives. Is Dane being punished for his arrogance? Is the search for a cure and easing his son’s suffering some form of illicit atonement? Is the loss of his son or wife worth the endless hours spent at the office?
The film itself doesn’t answer these profound questions, an exploration perhaps best avoided. Not all audiences are happy with the kind of ambiguous ending that can occur as a result. Whenever it can, the film attempts to attain more profound levels of poetically tragic prose, coming up short like the minuscule offerings of wisdom found in greetings cards at a local supermarket.
In Conclusion: A Family Man
Whilst A Family Man is worth a watch for the entire supporting cast alone, its narrative notes are perhaps carried better in the likes of My Sister’s Keeper or The Fault In Our Stars. We have seen Butler portray successfully a character with a tremendous amount of range in Law Abiding Citizen, where he displays an amalgam of cunning, rage and absolute despair. It’s a shame that performance skillset wasn’t more apparent in this particular film.
What are your thoughts on Gerard Butler? Heartthrob, action hero or the strong silent type? What do you think is his best film?
A Family Man is out now in the USA, and is available on DVD in the UK. All international release dates are here.
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