2013 - 110 minutes
Directed by: Luc Besson
Written by: Luc Besson, Michael Caleo
(based on the book "Malavita" by Tonino Benacquista)
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron,
John D'Leo, Vincent Pastore, Jon Freda
The family of “The Family” are despicable people. The patriarch is a former mob boss who will murder someone for trying to sell him a lobster that’s not to his liking and torture anyone who doesn’t assist in fixing his plumbing problem – beating a plumber to within an inch of his life and dragging a plant manager on the pavement behind his car. His wife decides to blow up a small grocery story in response to some cross, but fairly benign, comments (that also happen to be correct) made by the shopkeeper. The consequences for these actions are non-existent. A nonsensical tone isn’t present enough to find these actions humorous; they’re just vicious.
The kids are more redeemable, I suppose.17-year-old daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) violently attacks a girl who tries to steal her school supplies. 14-year-old Warren (John D’Leo) is only guilty of manipulating the cliques in his new school to get what he needs. The poor dog is only there to stare at multiple acts of violence.
Director and co-writer Luc Besson’s film is an excruciating experience with desperate attempts at inky-black humor that fall completely flat. The only lame stab at levity that garners any reaction is a scene where Giovanni Manzoni (Robert DeNiro) sits through a screening of “Goodfellas.” The reaction is a wince at how terrible it is. DeNiro is occasionally fun to watch, recalling some bravura performances of his mobster movie past, until we are literally reminded of his superlative mobster movie past.
This action-comedy – which contains neither in effective measures – is all about this family avoiding being whacked by a New York City don. There’s no reason given for us to care about them being offed, and from what I see they probably deserve it. Their innocent, if occasionally annoying, neighbors who get caught in the crossfire deserve much better.
Giovanni has just been relocated to Normandy, France as part of the Witness Protection Program, monitored by weary FBI agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones). I’m not sure if Jones’s performance is really great or if he’s just completely bored and drained by the material he’s given.
Giovanni, Belle, Warren and wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) all settle into a nondescript, slightly rundown home filled with junk and pipes that dispense brown water. The junk pile does include an old typewriter that immediately inspires Giovanni to write his memoirs for no apparent reason.
Perhaps Besson’s problems with the material are rooted in its adaptation from Tonino Benacquista’s book “Malavita.” Events driven by each family member separately never really come together to serve a larger narrative. Everything remains episodic, jumping back and forth and in and out through non sequiturs and a clumsy structure. Pfeiffer’s character gets short-changed the most often; disappearing for long stretches, mostly to a church to establish a threadbare plotline of trying to purge the sins of the family – one of several subplots that are completely pointless. Belle’s heartbreak over an affair with her math tutor and Warren’s desire to runaway to avoid his mounting trouble at school are obstacles to abandon when they all need to come together and survive as a family.
Everything comes to a head with the final act shootout that has a small army of killers closing in on the family, but only killing the townsfolk around them. The finale is long and loud and unfolds with a complete lack of grace, in keeping with the rest of the film’s ineptitude. Sight gags involving the size of guns would be considered lazy if they were anything to be considered at all. We even get a deadly-serious moment threatening rape, followed quickly by a slapstick moment of Maggie crawling on her hands and knees, glancing incredulously at her husband choking a would-be assassin with a belt.
There aren’t consistent hints of social commentary or satire in “The Family,” only a mess of misplaced chutzpah that’s about as effective at hitting its mark as a hapless hit man with a rocket launcher.
© 2013 by Blake Crane