Film Review: The Family (2013)

Luc Beeson directs black comedy The Family in his native land with heavyweight stars Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer– what’s not to like? Erm…

Imagine a world where everyone speaks perfect English in France, you can get away with blowing up a supermarket in broad daylight, and a discarded newspaper can somehow make its way across the Atlantic into the hands of a crime boss. Then welcome to The Family, courtesy of Luc Besson. Although the source material is based on a book, Malavista, this black comedy looks and feels as tired as its stars.

Former New York crime boss Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) and his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Glee‘s Dianna Agron) and son Warren (John D’Leo), are in the witness protection program after Manzoni snitches on a rival, Don Luchese. Agent Stanfield (a wrinkly Tommy Lee Jones) is tasked with keeping an eye on them, ensuring their safety in Europe but at the same time clashing with Manzoni because of his disobedient ways. By sheer luck, the family are discovered to be living in a small town in Normandy, and the Luchese mob waste no time in trying to eliminate them. Sure enough, things come to head, but not before each family member makes their own mark on the area, leading to an explosive finale.

So let’s start with the good; Beeson creates a nice premise with some subtle touches of its mid-90’s setting, adding his flair in the introduction of its characters. And the end confrontation is pretty much the all-action shootout you’d expect; bloody deaths galore with the family holding their own against an array of multi-armed bad guys.

Now to the bad; To give an idea of how negatively The Family has been received, Danny Leigh‘s summary on BBC’s Film 2013 included De Niro’s legacy continually being tainted to such an extent that now, thanks to this, his output has resulted in more dire films than truly good ones. Let’s be fair, it is not as bad as, say, The Big Wedding or Righteous Kill, yet there is a point in the film where De Niro’s character is watching Goodfellas. Yes, his fictional self is effectively watching another fictional version of himself. Instead of this absurd plot point coming off as clever (no doubt what the writers were aiming for), it just turns out to be excruciatingly embarrassing, almost as bad a Julia Roberts being Julia Roberts in Ocean’s Twelve. Up to that point this was passable fun.

Because the pacing moves the fish-out-of-water story along at an reasonable tempo, certain issues could have been overlooked such as sub-plots leading to nothing, unlikable main characters and poor acting from the extras (the local priest and maths teacher immediately spring to mind). As soon as it starts insulting our intelligence, all these factors become more apparent.

The Family wants to be witty and smart. It’s not. You can tell a comedy has failed when even the amount of brutality dished out to the French is only mildly amusing. A shame because the last film Pfeiffer and De Niro were in together was the wonderful fairy tale, Stardust. If only a little bit of that magic could have been sprinkled on this family.

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