The Family

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Director: Luc Besson.
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Michael Caleo.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, Jimmy Palumbo, Domenick Lombardozzi, Stan Carp, Vincent Pastore, Jon Freda.

It was a time when I had it all. People would ask me, “What was it like being untouchable?” The question they really should’ve asked was “What happens when it’s all over?”

During the 1990′s, Luc Besson was a director that I kept a very keen eye on. He delivered the dynamic French thriller “Nikita” before moving on to the kinetic and striking “Leon“. He followed this up with an outrageously unique Sci-Fi in “The Fifth Element” before tailing off with more obscure art-house and animation fair. “Angel-A” in 2005, was the last time I seen anything good from him and his latest in “The Family” would suggest that I’ll have to wait a little longer before he finds his feet again.

Giovanni Manzoni (Robert DeNiro) is a former mob man who enters the witness protection programme with his family and are relocated to Normandy, France to lay low. The problem for Manzoni, though, is that he finds it hard to keep a low profile and his old volatile habits bring just as much attention as they did back home.

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A farcical French/American mob movie that has all the potential to be something quite exquisite; a (once) quality director in Luc Besson; three outstanding central performers in Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones and the great Martin Scorsese lending his hand to producing duties. With this abundance of talent involved, you’d be forgiven for expecting that nothing can really go wrong here but that isn’t entirely the case. For a start, the writing is very scratchy indeed. It’s farcical nature doesn’t gel with it’s sporadic violent outbursts and it can’t seem to make amends with it’s extreme tonal shifts.

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In it’s favour, it has a snappy energy, buoyed by it’s solid trio of actors; DeNiro seems to be right up for it with his subtle comic timing in-check but it’s just a shame that he’s let down by Besson who doesn’t write any decent gags for him and those that are in place don’t work with the rest of the material. In fact, most of the sub-par gags are so forced that they’re delivered with some whimsical French accordion music playing overhead, reminding us that it’s supposed to funny – much in the same way that canned laughter is used. Pfeiffer is as watchable as ever and lends ample support with shades of her work in Jonathan Demme’s “Married to the Mob” and it’s great to finally see DeNiro and the great Tommy Lee Jones share the screen together. Unfortunately, their relationship is seriously underdeveloped and comes across as more of a missed opportunity than anything else. They do, however, share an amusing “Goodfellas” in-joke towards the end. It’s arguably misplaced but it’s still an enjoyable little moment between them.

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As far as the actors go, they can’t be faulted but the material does very little for them. If only Besson had settled on a particular tone then this could have worked so much better. It would also have helped if he had a script in place that wasn’t so lazy or mediocre and didn’t overly rely on his strong cast to carry him. There are good scenes to be had but they just don’t come together as a complete whole with some plot strands woefully underdeveloped and, in some instances, completely forgotten about.

It’s a film that strangely finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place. It might have worked better had it been more in touch with its funny bone or it might have been wiser to omit the humour altogether. I can’t quite decide but, as it is, the final product is very much hit-and-miss with an emphasis on the latter.

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Mark Walker

Trivia: Although Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer had both appeared in Stardust (2007) and New Year’s Eve (2011), they had shared no scenes. When Pfeiffer received the script, she told her agent that if she had no scenes with DeNiro she wouldn’t even read it.

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38 Responses to “The Family”

  1. Nice write-up Mark. I haven’t seen it but it sounds like a case of ‘how the mighty have fallen’ from your review. Think I’ll give it a miss, even though I also like Besson’s films from the 80s and 90s. Haven’t seen anything since The Fifth Element, even though his name pops up a lot as a writer/producer.

    • Cheers Stu! How the mighty have fallen indeed. There’s just too much talent involved for here for this not to work. Sadly, the talent counts for nothing. It has good moments and the potential was definitely there but the major fault lies with Besson on this one. His script and handling of the different tones just doesn’t work as well as it should.

  2. Agreed. This doesn’t quite know what it is. Feels like it might be a dark comedy but it never settled on that identity, and so is dissappointing.

    • I hear you, man. It actually could have been a very good dark comedy. The idea was there and they had the cast and crew to make it work but they just didn’t have a script that was worthy of note. I haven’t read the book on which it’s based but apparently it stuck quite closely to it. Either the book is garbage itself, or Besson has really messed up this adaptation.

  3. I remember that I wanted to go see this and never did. Sounds like I made the right call.

    Boat Drinks!

    • Yeah, you didn’t really miss much here bro! It had some good little moments and the performances were great but there wasn’t a lot else going in its favour. Man, what’s happened to Besson these days? His ass used to be beautiful.

      Boat Drinks!

  4. Good review Mark. Whatever this movie tried to be, a comedy, drama, action-thriller, it didn’t work and just came out like something of a jumble. A very boring jumble, to say the least.

  5. I was cautious about this film, but was still hoping for a decent comedy. Great review btw. I was shocked to discover this was directed by Luc Besson.

    • Yeah, Luc Besson, Chris. Not Besson on the best of form, though. He’s done much better in the past and squanders a very promising cast here. Your caution is wise young man. ;)

  6. Unfortunate but not unexpected. Like you mention, Besson use to be a name I looked forward to. Now, sadly, I tend to avoid anything he touches. Oh, how the great have fallen.

    • I suppose you’re right there, Nick. I had heard poor things about it beforehand but hoped against hope that I would still really enjoy it. I did enjoy some of it but wanted more. Sadly, Besson no longer commands my attention either.

  7. Nice one! There’s an issue with the De Niro Blogathon; it’s virtually impossible to keep up with the amount of films he’s releasing at the moment!

    • Cheers Mark. Yeah, as much as I’m directly involved in the DeNiro Blogathon itself, a few of my recent posts on my site have featured DeNiro as well. Everything I seem to touch just now is all about this guy. I could have kept this for the DeNiro site but I wanted to get it done quick and I’m afraid Marked Movies comes first. ;)

  8. Fantastic review. Loved how you brought up the fact that there’s some music playing softly over a few of the jokes — they truly were that bad. Brilliant analogy. It’s a shame this one stinks because I really wanted to like it. And you’re absolutely right about TLJ and DeNiro together being a missed opportunity here.

    • Cheers Tom. Yeah, what was with the music playing every time it was supposed to be funny? They must have known their jokes were shit and that was the only thing they could come up with. I really wanted to like this one too. In parts I did, but overall it was very disappointing.

  9. Nice review. I was thinking about seeing this in theaters, but decided to skip it after seeing some of the reviews. It’s a shame since like you said De Niro has very good comic timing, though he seems to star in plenty lame comedies.

    • Cheers man. Yeah, I’d save your hard earned coins and see something else instead. What is potentially a good movie just doesn’t hit the mark. DeNiro is good but totally wasted.

  10. Hi Mark! You’re way too generous w/ this one, he..he.. I think it’s a big stinker and though as you say, it’s not the actors’ fault. Such a big waste of talents, I can’t believe Scorsese was one of the producers!

    • I probably am being a tad generous Ruth. In all honesty there were moments that I liked and I also like the concept but it was woefully handled. Such a shame, as all the actors were great. Even young Agron and D’Leo who played the kids. For this one, I lay the blame solely on Besson.

  11. Good review Mark. Sounds like a missed opportunity…shame.

  12. Great review Mark. I haven’t heard a single good thing about this film, and it is definitely not something that I am looking to go and see.

  13. Had this one pegged as a stinker man. Great cast but if the script isn’t there there’s nothing for them to work with. Great review mate.

  14. Good review Mark. I walked into the theatre, sat down, and waited. After the endless ads and trailers the title of the film came up on screen and instead of it reading Prisoners, which is what I had paid for, it read The Family. Needless to say, I walked, and judging from review, it was probably a good move. :P

    • I think I was slightly more positive than most on this one film, Allan. In all honesty, though, it was a bit of a disappointment. This could have been great instead of the misjudged effort it became.

      • Indeed, as you said, all the pieces of a great film where in place, just not executed well enough resulting in a bit of a mix-mash and poorly written script. That is enough for me to know its anything but my bag.

      • That pretty much sums it up, Allan. I did find the occasional moment that appealed and the performances were good but there just wasn’t enough, overall. Wait till it comes on tv or something.

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