Studio: Lionsgate Pictures
US Rating: Rated PG-13 for Thematic Material, Sexual References and Brief Violence
Film Length: 109 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Surround Sound, Spanish 2.0 Digital Audio
Subtitles: English and Spanish
Review Date: February 1, 2009
The Film - out of
The world of Tyler Perry may seem broad – with a run of successful plays, films and now two television shows on the TBS network, but his world is actually very small. It is his success that is broad. Whether you love his work or loathe it, the effect of his appeal and his resultant success is undeniable as he has built an empire by telling stories of family, failure, fortune and faith.
The Family That Preys tells the story of two families, the Cartwrights and the Pratts, who descend into times of trouble and the matriarchs of those families who fight hard to save them from each other and themselves. Leading the wealthy Cartwright family is Charlotte, played by Kathy Bates and head of the Pratt family is Alice played by Alfre Woodard. Two strong women in very different ways – but both formidable. The film follows the lives of the families and the deceptions of self and others that come from marital affairs, lies and hurtful selfishness born out of the arrogant wealthy Cartwright son and the self-centered, unpleasant Pratt daughter
The cast is strong with Sanaa Lathan as Andrea, a pained and deceitful corporate professional, Rockmond Dunbar as her husband Chris – a man oblivious to the acts of his wife. Cole Hauser stars as William, the rich and manipulative Cartwright son with Kadee Strickland as his wife Jillian. The wonderful Taraji P. Henson plays Sanaa’s sister Pam – protective of her mother and angry with her sister who is married to Ben, played by Tyler Perry. Finally, Robin Givens stars as Abby, the striking COO hired by Charlotte, the ‘still in charge of the company’ mother, much to smug William’s obvious anger.
Tyler Perry’s work has matured considerably since he lit up the cinemas with 2005’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, but the simplicity of his stories has not. He usually populates his films with characters designed to serve limited capacities and with limited complexity. The maturity of his films is shown by people in his stories that are less and less caricatures; people painted with a wide brush; of limited scope and purposes of frustrating transparency. The good people are still a little too good (but with a single flaw that can easily be quelled) and the bad are still uniformly weak of character and sinister of deed. But while his characters are more interesting in this new film, they still populate plots that exist within a narrow world, a small set of parameters that don’t expand even when the stories shift locations a bit or the hurdle that must be overcome is new. He tells on celluloid, TV and stage parables of good overcoming in the face of odds and ones that model the teachings of the Bible in some way.
His reliance on his faith to inform his stories, along with the rich characters who grew up around, has served him well and he ably recognizes the world of Christians, exploring the natural flaws of men and women by laying them bare in characters and providing his artistic sermons for how they can become better than the weaknesses that haunting them. The Family That Preys represents a focusing of his aims and an improvement in how he builds the lives of the characters he wants to explore. It is a more simmering story, deeper and more subtle and, in turn, one of his better films.
But it isn’t without familiar flaws. The story of infidelity, familial treachery, road-trip swan song (a little like Thelma & Louise without the crime) and corporate in-dealings don’t combine particularly cohesively, but independent of each other they work well and are more engaging than some of his other work. The tone to the film is calmer, with less outward chaos – the bedlam exists beneath the surface and that is precisely why this film works better.
The actors deliver fine performances but could have achieved more with a tighter and more expressive script. In many ways, Tyler’s success relies upon his casting superb talents in the key roles and that is shown to be the case here.
Lionsgate brings home Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys, another very successful film in the mogul’s library, in a rather good looking DVD. Presented in what is noted as a ‘DVD Screen Format’ of 1.78:1 and 16X9 enhanced (The theatrical ratio was 1.85:1). Colors are warm, rich – soothing actually with auburn tones and moments of impressive balance – the blacks are deep, whites show no blooming or noise. The main concern is the softness of the image and the lack of finer details where you might have expected to find it. The image is bright, pleasing and clean but could have been sharper.
With available Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 audio options, The Family That Preys doesn’t find a way to impress with its sound. Besides sound bouncing appropriately and distinctly between the front channels, the remaining channels don’t excite. The center channel, while clear and with no sign of distortion, is at a lower level requiring the sound to be turned up. The surrounds are barely used at all and are only noticed when the song choice becomes the audio focus.
Two Families, Two Legends Featurette – (9:51) – Tyler Perry talks about the talks about the two families central to the film’s story and Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard talk about the roles and working together.
Preying in the Big Easy Featurette – (3:35) – A short look at Shooting in Tyler’s home town of Louisiana.
Casting the Family Featurette – (10:31) – Tyler talks about building the ensemble cast and the cast themselves share their appreciation for who they get to work with.
Delving into the Diner – (6:52) – A look at the production design of the ‘Wing & a Prayer Diner’ by Ina Mayhew built at ‘Tyler Perry Studios’ – including a brief tour.
Deleted Scenes - Four deleted scenes rightfully cut from the finished product.
Tyler Perry’s success should be celebrated as much as it should be a concern. African-American representation in front of and behind the camera is shamefully imbalanced – so when a Tyler Perry comes along, regardless of the overall quality of his work, he is flocked to, supported and loved (by many). But he presents a limited view of African-American lives, challenges and people. His Madea character in particular, while on the surface can be found to be funny, represents a curious double edge of good humor and reliance on stereotyping. There is much value to his film work though he is clearly more comfortable with the stage setting and that infiltrates his movie work too often. I see his characters growing in complexity, but his scripting is still a step or two behind that growth. In the end, it shouldn’t be up to Tyler Perry to represent African-American’s in totality. It should not be his mantle to carry the weight of black representation in film and be lauded as proof that there is art designed primarily to appeal to African-Americans. There should be other voices out there – other options, other perspectives, other stories. So while his work is imperfect, it is still a voice that was not out there before. We simply must have more options – more ways to experience the vast and rich culture – and unique experiences of African Americans beyond Tyler Perry.