It’s safe to say that Robert De Niro has made a career out of playing mobsters. Sure, he’s done a lot of other kinds of movies, but the mobster characters have always suited him and he’s played them well. His role in The Family is no exception. This time around he rejoins Michelle Pfeiffer (the two reunite for the first time since Stardust)and cause a little hell in a fun, yet uneven film.
Frank Blake, AKA Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro), is a wanted man. He and his family have been on the run for six years, weaving in and out of different cities and countries,trying to integrate to wherever they’re living. Why are they on the run? Well,it isn’t from the cops they’re running from. In fact, the FBI is helping them remain under the radar in the Witness Protection Program. It’s the mob they’ve been running from ever since Giovanni ratted out his family to the FBI, so he’snow worth about $20 million if he’s caught and killed.
Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is Giovanni’s loyal wife whose Brooklyn-Italian accent comes and goes throughout the film and is as sketchy as bad cell reception. She and their children Belle (Diana Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo) may not have been directly involved in the mob, but they’ve got some pretty violent tendencies themselves.They finally settle in Normandy, France where they’re welcomed by some and shunned by others.
Giovanni has taken to writing his memoirs in detail, goes through everyone like a punching bag to make sure that his running water is clear and not brown, and tries every which way to get past Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones). At least until the mob catches up with them.
Director Luc Besson’s career includes several films with heavy violence. This movie is no exception. Not only is there plenty of violence, but during the first half of the film it’s used mainly for laughs. Some are funny, others not so much. Besson tries for a balance with funny violence and dramatic violence, but the line is blurred somewhere along the way. When the family is finally gunned down, the violence and after effects should be taken more seriously but can’t be since it is used as humor earlier on in the film.
Though generally enjoyable, the film doesn’t have a clear tone. De Niro writes about his life in the mob and how he clearly enjoyed it, but ultimately betrays his family.There’s also a brief moment where he wonders if he did right by his kids and their upbringing, but what the film is trying to say isn’t clear. Is there a point to any of it? While the family splits up over one reason or another—Agron’s delusional love life being one of them—they never have any major moments as a family, which belies the title of the film. They don’t really argue, they don’t come together, and there’s no clear theme of family that leads the film into the finale.
With those major nitpicks out of the way, The Family is generally entertaining and has its funny moments, ridiculous as they may be. De Niro steals the show of course and the best scenes are the ones between him and the always grouchy-seeming Tommy Lee Jones.
There’s a scene where they attend the neighborhood film society screening of Goodfellas. Ironic and witty since De Niro is well known for the 1990 movie. Then De Niro is asked to talk about life in New York City and the mob as it’s portrayed in movies. Besson pushes the envelope in this scene as the film reaches its true parodying and somehow parallel moment between De Niro’s character and Ray Liotta’s in Goodfellas.
The Family is an all-around decent watch. It has a bit of humor, attempts a little bit of drama, and throws in De Niro, Pfeiffer,and Jones for good measure. Some of the violence that’s played for laughs isn’t funny, but what the film lacks in overall theme and direction makes up for in entertainment value and bizarre fun.