- Movie Rating -

The Family (2013)

| September 17, 2013 | 0 Comments
French director Luc Besson is best at creating portraits of the criminal underground.  You can see this in his best work like “La Femme Nikita” and “The Professional.”  You can even see a bit of this in “The Fifth Element.”  He knows how to take us into the scummy underworld and introduce us to characters that we come to like.  So, what happened with his latest film, “The Family?”  The pieces are all in place.  The casting is brilliant.  The premise seems irresistible, and yet none of it really comes together.

“The Family” is a mob comedy that would seem to have a premise that could write itself.  We meet The Manzoni’s, a small family from Brooklyn headed by Giovanni (Robert De Nero) one of New York’s most feared mob bosses.  He has a beautiful wife Maggie, who has an explosive temper.  There are two kids, daughter Bella (“Glee’s” Dianna Argon) who has the chops to be a mob assassin.  And there’s son Warren (John D’Leo) a whip-smart hustler who can size anyone up at a glance.  As the film opens they are being relocated to Normandy France after having been in the Witness Protection Program for the past six years under the sir name Blake.  Giovanni is forced into a less flashy moniker: Fred.The “Blake” family tries to settle into the French suburban life, using their skills and their instincts to protect themselves against nosey French neighbors.  Their violent shenanigans are a pain to the man who is charged with keeping their identity a secret.  He is Robert Stansfield, an FBI agent who is constantly at odds with Giovanni’s method of dealing with domestic problems – like the people who get roughed up because they won’t fix his taps that run brown water.  Also Bella’s violent rage when a boy leads her into the woods hoping for sex.  Or Warren’s dealings with a dim-witted jock at school.This would seem like the perfect fish-out-of-water story.  The quick-tempered Brooklyn-ites versus the snooty neighbors, but the movie never really finds a consistent tone.  It moves from comedy to violence to sentiment without any real purpose.  Subplots are brought in but never really dealt with, like Bella’s romance with a college professor, or Warren’s ability to wheel and deal.  These things are brought up but never come to any conclusion.  There’s also the issue of a book that Giovanni is secretly working on detailing his criminal career.  Again, it has no payoff.  Perfect opportunities for comic gold are wasted, like a scene in which Giovanni is invited to a film debate.  The film being shown: “Goodfellas.”  But the movie misses the opportunity for De Niro to really get to discuss the film, Besson cuts away from the joke so we don’t get to hear what he’s staying.  The movie also misses an opportunity with Tommy Lee Jones who, as the family’s handler, is given a thankless role with nothing to do.  He’s a much better actor than that.

Rather than building characters, Besson’s punchlines usually include someone being beaten to a pulp, accompanied by an annoying rock score (the movie is wall-to-wall music).  The characters do things that make no sense.  For example, why would Maggie, who is suppose to keep a low profile blow up a supermarket after being insulted by the proprietors?

It’s really too bad, because the movie contains a wonderful performance by Robert De Niro.  He has one of the easiest and most inviting screen presences of any living actor.  De Niro has been a part of American film for 48 years now, and he is so familiar to us that he seems to be part of the furniture, not just an actor in a role.  When he appears in any role, he always seems to have been there for years.  His work here is actually pretty good, giving us the portrait of a former wise guy who has been forced to retire to the life of an ordinary schnook.  He can’t stay hidden, and must type out his memoirs so as not to be forgotten.

Yet, even with that wonderful performance, you watch “The Family” with a sense of frustration.  It moves back and forth between melodrama and comedy at a pace that is sometimes confusing.  It raises and drops one subplot after another and never develops a firm narrative that you can follow from beginning to end.  Besson is a talented filmmaker and you can see his skill at work in certain scenes, but you just wish he had made a much better, and much more focused film.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2013) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy