The Family

Clearly, Robert DeNiro loves to work. The legendary star appears in far more films these days than most actors his age--he’s pretty much at the yearly level of Michael Caine in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  It’s too bad so many of these films are light, silly comedies that play off of DeNiro’s screen image rather than utilizing his talent.  The Family is a case in point. The film tells the story of a Mafioso (DeNiro) and his family that get relocated to Normandy, France as part of the witness protection program. The fish-out-of-water premise easily presents ample opportunity for broad gags about the culture clash between boorish, violent New York criminals and stuck-up, judgmental French villagers. Unfortunately, the tone of this comedy (and I do think this is supposed to be a comedy) is entirely uneven. The picture contains far more disturbing acts of violence than laughs.  At first, some of these punch-first-ask-questions-later scenes are funny, but after a while they just become unpleasant, and strain the film’s hold on any kind of credible reality. If The Family were more of a farce, the screen violence would play much better, but the picture is far too drawn out and flat to be farcical.

When the end credits rolled, I was shocked to see this picture was written and directed by Luc Besson (Subway, Le grand bleu, La femme Nikita), but upon reflection it’s not surprising that the once masterful art-house stylist can’t create the delicate tonal balance require for comedy.  Besson has dabbled in lighter fare before, with less-than-impressive results. While The Family isn’t a total failure, it is depressing to see so much great talent wasted in such an unsatisfying exercise. Not only DeNiro and Besson, but also Tommy Lee Jones, as the FBI handler, and Michelle Pfeiffer, as the Mob wife. Back in the ‘80s I thought Pfeiffer would work forever in one amazing movie after another, like Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon. I’m saddened by how disappointing pretty much every one of the few films she’s made in the last 10 to 15 years has been. But the biggest problem with The Family is how grossly it capitalizes on DeNiro’s image and screen career. The film demonstrates its shallowness near the end in an awkward sequence that references DeNiro’s iconic role in Goodfellas. This moment is the kind of device that would need to be written far more expertly were the main character played by any other actor.  Besson cast the genuine article as his lead and therefor seemed to think his job was finished. But, like most every other aspect of the movie, it comes of as superficial shtick.

Directed by Luc Besson
Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Luc Besson, and Virginie Silla

Screenplay by Luc Besson and Michael Caleo
Based on the novel Malavita by Tonino Benacquista

With: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D'Leo, Tommy Lee Jones, Jimmy Palumbo, Domenick Lombardozzi, Stan Carp, Vincent Pastore, Jon Freda, Michael J. Panichelli Jr., Paul Borghese, Anthony Desio, and Dominic Chianese

Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast
Editing: Julien Rey
Music: Evgueni Galperine and Sacha Galperine

Runtime: 111 min
Release Date: 13 September 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1