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FAMILY MAN

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Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven, Mackenzie Vega
Director:  Brett Ratner
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS, Dolby Surround (French)
Video:  2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Subtitles:  English
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  126 minutes
Release Date:  July 17, 2001

“Got a call from Terry Haight.  Bob Thomas is nervous.”
“That'll happen when you're about to spend one hundred and thirty billion dollars on some aspirin.”
“Somebody's gotta nurse him through this.”
“Well, why are you staring at my breasts Peter?”
“I need you, tiger.”
(Leans over to secretary) “Call Aunt Irma and tell her I can't make it.”
“You're a credit to capitalism, Jack.”

Film ***1/2

One man goes down a certain road and through that particular choice accidentally bumps into the love of his life.  Another man's alarm clock doesn't go off in time, causing him to stay later into the night at his job to make up for it, resulting in his death on the way home at the hands of a drunk driver.  These endless possibilities make up our day-to-day life, and in the end some say, we're the sum of all our choices.

But what if we could see what would happen if that one thing had changed?  Whether through changing things from the way they are through scientific invention, like in the Back to the Future films, or spiritual intervention, like in It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Destiny, the premise of “what if” has always fascinated Hollywood.

When The Family Man debuted in theaters, I was immediately taken with the film's premise: Jack Campbell (Cage), a ruthless and powerful businessman, in all ways a success but in love, happens to walk home on one fateful Christmas Eve.  By doing so, he ends up in a convenience store in time to see an angry patron pointing a gun at the owner, frustrated that the owner refuses to take his winning lottery ticket seriously.  Jack, immediately seizing control of the situation, defuses the problem by buying the ticket from the man.  Unbeknownst to him, this was an angel testing people's character and, by impressing him, Jack has been given the chance to see how his life would have turned out if he hadn't left his girlfriend Kate (Leoni) thirteen years ago. 

Not surprisingly, when people heard the phrases “what if” and “Christmastime,” The Family Man received immediate fire for being another attempt at making It's a Wonderful Life from people that most likely hadn't even seen the film.  After watching it, I can assure anyone that that's where the similarities end.  While It's a Wonderful Life concentrates on a man appreciating the value of his life, through seeing how many lives would have been different if he hadn't existed, and not for the better, The Family Man focuses on the costs of the choices you make everyday. 

As well, the film also was criticized by many reviewers for being too “saccharine filled” and too “feel good.”  To be honest, I have no clue what they were expecting, have they ever seen a romantic comedy?  It's a very sad sign that today people seem to believe that if something is sweet, it's automatically not intelligent or powerful.  Perhaps they think it would've been better if Nicolas Cage had taken out a silenced pistol and killed everyone in the end?  Would that have made it more original, gritty, or edgy? 

Despite the opinions of a few of my colleagues, I'd have to say this is one of the better romantic comedies I've seen, with just the right blend of humor and sweetness.  Moreover, the casting is top notch, as both the leads and the supporting actors seem to fit well into their characters and environment.  Nicolas Cage as Jack Campbell is brilliant in his performance and surprisingly, even after multiple viewings, I still am picking up on the nuances that he's provided his character.  Jack's utter surprise and disgust at his new situation is hilarious, and he often delivers some very funny lines.  Tea Leoni also does a wonderful job as Kate, and it seems she has a genuine chemistry with Nicolas Cage that allows the viewer to buy into the romance aspect of the film completely.

This one made the cynic in me take a break; it is a gem of a film that's not just sentimental, but also witty and intelligent.

Video ***1/2

Knowing that this film wasn't a blockbuster, I wasn't expecting much out of this transfer.  But the transfer is generally a good one.  The lighting by Dante Spinotti is picked up well, with colors that are full and deep.  Flesh tones are for the most part accurate.  Overall, this is a suitable transfer to say the least.  

Audio ***1/2

Contained on the disc is both a DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 track.  While it most likely won't matter which, I again preferred the DTS track.  All in all this is mostly a dialogue-oriented piece and performs well as one.  Danny Elfman's score occasionally appears in the background, but for the most part this is a good, if somewhat quiet, track that performs when asked.     

Supplements ****

Universal has once more shown why they are so good at making DVD's, as they provide quite the nice package of supplements for this disc.  First on the disc is an approximate twenty-minute spotlight on location.  Surprisingly this was more than just the average “fluff piece,” and actually went into the casting decisions, such as persuading Nicolas Cage to join the production, as well as the choices made with the script, and how Brett Ratner (Money Talks, Rush Hour) was chosen to direct.

Next, on the disc are three commentaries.  The first (and my favorite), with director Brett Ratner and screenwriters David Diamond and David Weissman, discusses some character motivations, and what went into making certain choices about main plots points, et al.  The next commentary with producer Marc Abraham consists of some new and added points about the characters, but essentially this is a quieter track with a lot of points regurgitated from the previous commentary.  The third and final commentary is with composer Danny Elfman.  In this track, only Elfman and the occasional musical interludes can be heard.  This track as well is often quiet for the most part, but Elfman, still does an adequate job explaining what motivated him going one way or another with the score.

After that are nine deleted scenes.  Overall, these were very interesting, and often amusing, scenes that were taken out because of time constraints or that in the end the filmmakers found them unnecessary to the progression of the film.  Even so, these scenes are actually very amusing and I'm glad to see that they were included on the disc.  Also, six outtakes were included.  While I'm not generally a big fan of outtakes per se, these were somewhat funny and I'm glad they were included. 

Next is a “Hi Jack Montage,” which is basically where the filmmakers have cut the scenes and strung them together when everyone says “Jack” in the film.  This was probably not needed on the disc.  Continuing on in the interactive games format from the Meet the Parents disc, this disc offers the “Choose Your Fate” game, which offers you choices between work and play, and then offers up a vague quote in response based on your choices throughout.

Finally rounding out the disc is the opening scene with an alternate music track (Perry Como's “It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas), in addition to that are the typical cast and crew filmographies, as well as a theatrical and teaser trailer. 

Summary:

Universal has done it again, providing a very well done film, reasonably priced, with nice transfers, and a host of supplements.  Highly recommended.