Nicolas CageTea LeoniDon CheadleSaul Rubinek
The Family Man
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Brett Ratner
Writer: David Diamond, David Weissman
Keywords: fantasy
Actor: Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Saul Rubinek, Josef Sommer, Makenzie Vega, Lisa Thornhill, Harve Presnell, Mary Beth Hurt, Amber Valletta, Francine York, Ruth Williamson, John F. O'Donohue, Daniel Whitner, Ken Leung, Mak Fai, Kate Walsh, Ray Valentine, Gianni Russo, Tom McGowan, Joel McKinnon Miller, Troy Hall
Country: USA
Format: 125 minutes
Website category: Fantasy
Review date: 31 May 2012
It's like a cross between It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, starring Nicolas Cage as a Wall Street executive who learns that money isn't everything. It's also directed by Brett Ratner, between the first two Rush Hours and a few years before X-Men: The Last Stand. I quite liked it.
It's Cage who makes it good, basically. Everything else in the film is okay. The message is... shall we say "familiar". We've seen it before, quite often in other, possibly better films released around the same time. It could easily have been beautiful and inspiring, but it was in severe danger of being bollocks. Cage's character hasn't found true happiness because all he has is the empty satisfaction of working hard and being wildly successful at a job that makes obscene amounts of money. Ahem. Yeah, right. Everyone in Hollywood believes that, don't they? Anyone would be miserable having sex with supermodels and being able to buy half of New York with the spare change you found down the sofa.
Then there's the overfamiliarity. Even just considering films released immediately before this, there's an Australian comedy called Me Myself I and a Disney film with Bruce Willis called The Kid.
Nicolas Cage is excellent in it, though, which is the key factor. There's more in a Cage than meets the eye. He has the image of being a nutcase whose divorce proceedings for his second marriage lasted longer than the marriage itself and who called his son Kal-El. (In case you're not a comics nerd, that's Superman's real name.) His acting style is liable to go into mega-acting realms unknown on planet Earth. Cage himself says that he's invented the "Nouveau Shamanic" acting method and one day will write a book about it. However he's far more than just a whack job pulling laugh-out-loud faces. He won the Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas and he gives himself more entirely to a role than anyone else I can think of. I can't even imagine a Cage performance without superhuman levels of commitment. He doesn't seem to have any other setting... and it works, whether he's doing action nonsense, light comedy or lacerating emotional trauma. [NOTE: I haven't seen Ghost Rider, National Treasure, Gone in 60 Seconds, etc. so I might be talking out of my backside.]
He made me laugh. You see, he's playing yuppie scum. He's not actually a bad person and indeed he does something important and entirely selfless near the start of the movie, but he's the kind of guy who thinks it's a living hell not to have a tailored suit more expensive than most people's cars. For him, Christmas is when losers take a holiday. (This is a Christmas movie.) "You're a credit to capitalism, Jack."
I loved seeing this guy dumped into an ordinary life with a wife, children and a job selling tyres. No, I take that back. I loved seeing Cage's take on it. He captures exactly the right level of insensitivity, creating a monster who's never entirely comfortable to watch and yet at the same time is also a nice guy who means well, doesn't mean to hurt anyone and never loses the audience's sympathy. I got nervous seeing him going to work, since it seemed implausible that this man could walk into a stranger's job and not make a terrifying pig's ear of it, but the film discreetly skates over that. Meanwhile he's bone-headed about the oddest things, for example often being oblivious to sexual situations, and he has a kind of crocodile innocence I'd never seen before.
With all that, Cage rules. The film gives the impression of being endlessly quotable, but on closer examination these are generally lines that look flat on the page and what's great about them is simply Cage. "I'm going to have to get back to you on that, Ed." "That's mine; give it back." I loved seeing him change a nappy, for instance.
The rest of the movie is fine. Brett Ratner's name gave me slight pause, but he didn't seem that bad. I also quite enjoyed X-Men: The Last Stand, for what it's worth. I think Ratner perhaps suffers for me from unconscious association with Gerald Ratner, who said in a public speech that his company sold "total crap" and thus reduced its value by about 500 million pounds. This is known as the Ratner effect, but it's got nothing to do with Brett and I don't think he does anything wrong here. The other actors are fine, including the children. Tea Leoni is Cage's wife and she recovers well from a first scene that makes her look like a whining loser. (She's right, as it happens, but that's merely because the movie needs her to be.)
I liked the film, but I wouldn't quite call it good enough to recommend. It's perhaps a bit long and there wouldn't be much left of it if you weren't a fan of Cage and/or were irritated by the plot. It entertained me, but it would also have been easy to stop watching. Nevertheless it's likeable, its message is charming and Cage is mighty in it. More Cage; I need more Cage.