The Family (2013)
Directed by: Luc Besson
Premise: A mafia family enters the witness protection program and is relocated to a small town in France. As they struggle to integrate into their new home the criminals they implicated try to track them down.
What Works: The Family has a solid central cast and the actors do well in their roles, given what they have to work with. Robert De Niro has done the mobster bit so many times that at this point it has become a joke but in The Family De Niro is able to have a little fun with his wise guy persona and he does not phone in his performance the way he has in a lot of similar films. Michelle Pfeiffer is cast as the mafia wife and she has an aggressive presence that complement’s De Niro’s more restrained performance. Dianna Agron and John D’Leo play the children and the actors demonstrate a lot of promise, especially Agron who has moments of heartbreak that would be really compelling if they were in a better movie.
What Doesn’t: The Family is a severely miscalculated production. The filmmakers reach for the violently comedic tone of films like In Bruges and the television show Dexter but they make mistakes at every turn that ruin any possibility of accomplishing that. In Bruges and Dexter work so well because their makers demonstrate a mastery of tone and include characters who are flawed and sympathetic. The tone of The Family is all over the place. At times the movie plays like a lame holiday comedy such National Lampoon’s European Vacation, as this American family travels to Europe and struggles to navigate another culture. That ought to be an easy way for the filmmakers to build empathy for their characters but they entirely screw it up. The family members come off as spoiled and ungrateful, spending most of their time whining about the fact that France is not the United States and that they cannot get peanut butter or a cheese burger. One of the stranger aspects of The Family is the way it deals with nationalistic stereotypes. The French characters are rude and insult America, fulfilling the French stereotype as seen in American culture, but when the family members violently respond to those insults they confirm everything that was said about them. This is probably supposed to be funny but it isn’t, largely because of the other tonal problem of the film: its violence. The Family has brutal scenes of violence as entire families are shot by mob hit men and the viciousness of the movie undoes whatever lightness of tone the filmmakers aim to cultivate. The violence is even more distressing because a lot of it is perpetuated by De Niro’s character and his family and much of the time it is entirely inappropriate, such as De Niro’s character nearly beating a plumber to death with a baseball bat when he is late for an appointment. Sometimes movie violence can make a character endearing but in The Family it just makes the characters repulsive. The title characters of The Family aren’t just criminals; they’re violent sociopaths and there is no reason for the audience to care if the mafia catches up to them. The plotting of The Family is as random as its tone. The story introduces a ton of narrative strands and none of them go anywhere. De Niro’s character begins writing a memoir, the son creates a criminal network at school, and the daughter falls for her math tutor but none of these subplots are brought to any kind of a conclusion. It is all just filler in between violent episodes, leading to the inevitable Luc Besson shootout but unlike Besson’s better films like Taken and The Professional this isn’t even entertaining.
Bottom Line: The Family is a nearly textbook example of storytelling misjudgment. There may have been the kernel of an interesting film here but it is ruined in a botched execution.
Episode: #457 (September 22, 2013)