…you'd picked family life over the big money? That was the question that The Family Man asked in theaters last Christmas season. Unfortunately it wasn't a question most filmgoers were anxious to have answered, as the film drew mixed reactions from crowds and critics. But, like the film's hero, we get a second chance to see what we might've missed as The Family Man debuts on DVD from Universal.
Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is a successful Wall Street businessman, with a Ferrari and an expensive penthouse apartment. Jack is so driven to succeed that he makes his co-workers work on Christmas, trying to seal a major corporate merger. But Jack wakes up on Christmas morning in bed with Kate (Téa Leoni), the girlfriend he left 13 years ago. He's got two kids and a house in New Jersey. Instead of a Ferrari, Jack drives a minivan to his job as a tire salesman. Jack returns to New York to reclaim his life to find that no one recognizes him. Cash (Don Cheadle), the enigmatic angel, informs Jack he's getting a glimpse of what his life would be like had he never left Kate. Jack finds his New Jersey life to be a meager one, devoid of the finer things he's come to appreciate. But after several weeks of family life, Jack realizes how empty life without Kate was. He falls back in love with her. But Cash reminds Jack that this is only a glimpse and he ultimately will have to return to his former life.
The Family Man proposes a premise that we can all relate to: the opportunity to see what our lives would be like if we'd taken a different path. Like Jack Campbell we've all made choices that affect the outcome of our lives. But were they the right ones? This kind of questioning can make for an interesting film, and indeed it has become sort of a genre unto itself since the 1946 release of It's A Wonderful Life. But unlike George Bailey, Jack Campbell comes to learn that his real life isn't so wonderful compared to the life he left behind.
I have to admit, I first viewed The Family Man in theaters this past Christmas season and didn't like it very much at all. I found it to be predictable and sappy and, worse, too long. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it much more upon a second viewing. If you've seen the trailer for The Family Man, you've seen most of The Family Man. It takes a very long time to get past its initial set-up. But with the ending of the film, the creators of The Family Man made a bold choice (and one that I don't want to ruin for you) that makes the film better than most of the other It's A Wonderful Life knock-offs. It's still a little long, with a very unnecessary diversion in which Jack attempts to get his old Wall Street job back, but one of the great things about home video is that you don't actually have to sit through the whole thing at once. I watched The Family Man in a couple of different sittings, and always returned to it enthusiastically.
Nicolas Cage gives a nicely restrained performance (for once) as Jack Campbell. Cage successfully steers his character through ambition, mid-life crisis, and desperation. Téa Leoni is equally impressive as Kate, though she's almost a little too perfect. You wonder what she sees in Jack in the first place. Don Cheadle gives a terrific supporting performance, as does the hysterical Jeremy Piven as Jack's post-modern buddy Arnie.
The Family Man is presented in its original aspect ratio, an anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1. Universal has done a good job with the video presentation. The picture is exceptionally clear, colors are solid and fleshtones are accurate. There are a few instances of edge enhancement, but they're pretty rare.
The Family Man can be viewed with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound or DTS 5.1. Both audio options are impressive, though the surround channels are underused. Dialogue is crisp and clear; the score is lush. If I were pressed to choose, I'd say the DTS track sounds fuller, but no real complaints either way.
The Family Man is a full-blown Universal Collector's Edition and, as such, is packed with Special Features to keep you busy way beyond the initial viewing. First up is a typical Universal "Spotlight On Location" featurette that contains interviews with Cage, Leoni, and Producer Marc Abraham. Usually these featurettes are pretty standard generic fluff, but this one contains an interesting story about Director Brett Ratner's fight to helm this film.
The disc sports no less than three audio commentaries. The first commentary features the insights of Ratner and writers David Diamond and David Weissman. It's clear that these participants are proud of their work and get along swimmingly. It's a conversational commentary, reflecting on everything from set design, to casting and critical reviews. Next up is a commentary by Producer Marc Abraham. This track is less raucous than the first one, and though he seems to enjoy the picture, Abraham is less enthusiastic. I question the need for a second technical commentary because Abraham relates many of the same stories from the first commentary, and then speaks infrequently through the last quarter of the film. Finally, there is a musical score commentary with composer Danny Elfman, which would more aptly be called an isolated score track. Elfman has interesting things to say, but they are few and far between. His beautiful score plays without dialogue to disturb it whenever he isn't talking, which is much of the time.
There are nine deleted scenes on this disc that total about 13 minutes. It's very obvious why these scenes were cut (I can think of a few more that should've been cut out of the actual film) but there is an occasional gem like the cameo by Paul Sorvino. More fun is the outtakes section with about nine minutes of Jeremy Piven cracking up Nicolas Cage. Also included in something called the "Hi Jack" montage. I'll let you figure out what that is yourself. The "opening scene with alternate music track" sports a famous Christmas song instead of the orchestral score. The "Choose Your Fate" game is a silly Q&A about your choices regarding work and family, culminating in a vaguely relevant famous quotation. Other features include Seal's "This Could Be Heaven" music video, the theatrical trailer, and production notes. The DVD-ROM portion of the disc features a souped-up version of the game, access to the website, production information and a script-to-screen comparison. Phew! No complaints that they didn't pack this disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Defense rests.
The Family Man isn't a perfect film, but it's an enjoyable look at how the choices we make affect our lives. Universal's outstanding presentation serves to erase any reservations I would have about recommending this disc. Give it a look.
Upon appeal I overturn my earlier verdict! The Family Man is not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
• Spotlight On Location
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