Synopsis: The Family stars Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as Fred and Maggie Blake, an ex-Mafia boss and his wife who relocate their family to a sleepy town in France under the Witness Protection Program after snitching on the mob. Chaos ensues as their former Mafia cronies try to track them down and scores are settled in the unlikeliest of settings.
Release Date: September 13, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, Action
Luc Besson’s The Family has a star-studded cast, an interesting concept, a smart blend of action and comedy, yet something about it just doesn’t work. It may be that the film fails to be compelling until the very end, or that the plot meanders for far too long, but whatever it is I left The Family feeling like I had just seen a very “safe” movie – one that will draw some crowds, but that panders to them far too often.
Robert De Niro plays the patriarch of the “family,” Gio, a former mobster now in witness protection and constantly under the threat of mafia retaliation. He, along with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), his son Warren (John D’Leo), and daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) do their best to assimilate into the local neighborhoods. However, what makes this family unique is its over reliance on violence to solve problems, a likely byproduct of years of exposure to the mob mentality. And so, Gio, Maggie, and even Warren and Belle’s ability to solve problems in the traditional sense, gives way to more devious methods.
Of course, along with this unique take on a family dynamic, in which each character overcomes obstacles like a wrecking ball overcomes a dilapidated building, there is also the threat of death from the former mob boss that Gio informed on. But while the confidential informant storyline typically takes the spotlight in most movies of this ilk, it plays second fiddle in The Family. The focus, as the title suggests, is placed on the family.
For the most part, each member of the family is worth getting to know, if they are a bit thinly drawn. De Niro’s Gio is the most compelling of the group, but only because it’s so much fun to watch him play an aged gangster who still very much loves putting the screws to his opposition. Unfortunately, though, the idea that this family that has been on the run for several years can continue to rely on violence for so long borders on parody, and had me rolling my eyes more than once. Each member of the family inflicts genuine bodily harm on their opposition – be it the son versus the school bullies or the daughter versus some overly pushy seniors – without remorse or discretion. Yes, it’s good for a laugh here and there, but it gets overly silly very quick.
On top of that, the family’s FBI “watchdog,” played by Tommy Lee Jones, comes across as a no-nonsense, by the book agent, which makes the blaze way in which these characters dole out physical harm all the more perplexing. It’s almost like Jones was typecast in a role that sounds like Tommy Lee Jones, but isn’t befit the gravitas of the actor. That isn’t to say his performance is lacking – in fact, it’s quite the opposite – but as a character, he feels very underutilized. The fact that he can’t see how violent the family, again, turns the film into a parody.
And when they’re not busy smashing the plumber’s legs with a bat, or blowing up the local market with lighter fluid and gasoline, the family is doing their best to get by. Gio is writing his memoirs – a way for him to make sense of his past life; Maggie’s trying to be a good homemaker and wife, Warren’s trying to survive high school, and Belle’s dealing with her first love. It’s all pretty standard stuff and doesn’t make for interesting movie watching. So, by the time the film gets to its shootout heavy conclusion, you find it hard to feel invested in these characters, let alone to root for their success. Rather, you’re prepared to watch them maim another set of individuals, only with the pretense that these are bad guys and therefore deserve to die.
The Family has its fair share of laughs, and an intriguing premise, but it fails to fully capitalize on its stellar cast and ends up simply getting by. It’s hard to deny, though, that some will come away from The Family satisfied simply because watching these characters let their inner mobster loose does have its appeals. For me, it just didn’t add up to anything worth caring about.
Despite some unbelievable character motivations, the acting in The Family is solid across the board. The performances make this movie enjoyable, or at the very least tolerable, and worth recommending to fans of any or all who are involved. Every character believably portrays himself or herself as a member of this unconventional coven, from top to bottom. De Niro and Pfeiffer are the two biggest standouts, simply because of their chemistry. You can tell these two are not only seasoned veterans, but understand what a unique combination they are. They don’t waste their screen time and are absolutely charming together.
But the real treat in The Family is getting to see De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones joke with each other. Like with Pfeiffer and De Niro, these two have shorthand that makes every scene they’re in immensely enjoyable. In fact, I wish they had more scenes together. And what’s most impressive is that these two actors that could be accused of “phoning it in” on occasion are clearly giving it their all here.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Luc Besson
- Screenwriter(s): Luc BessonMichael Caleo
- Cast: Robert De Niro (Fred Blake/Giovanni Manzoni)Michelle Pfeiffer (Maggie Blake)Dianna Agron (Belle Blake) John D’Leo (Warren Blake)Tommy Lee Jones (Robert Stansfield)Vincent Pastore (Fat Willy)Jimmy Palumbo (Di Cicco)
- Editor(s): Julien Rey
- Cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA