Written by Lily Davis.
The Family is not the cringe-worthy disaster I had pictured, it is instead a rather flawed but overall enjoyable film.
The story follows ex-mafia family the Manzonis from the moment they step into their new life under witness protection in a remote French town. Giovanni Manzoni, played by Robert De Niro, has a hard time escaping the life he has left behind. His old mafia associates are still on his tail, seeking vengeance after he snitched. Each family member makes their own attempt to settle into the new life set before them, although each is prone to lapsing into old habits.
Director Luc Besson, best known for The Fifth Element and Leon: The Professional, does a decent job. Yet, perhaps the cast is what truly brings Tonino Benacquista’s book to life.
The most worthwhile element of this film is without a doubt the performances. You couldn’t expect much less from such a stellar cast. While Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones are expectedly suitable for their roles, they still manage to bring great energy and quality to the screen. They definitely don’t approach these familiar roles half-heartedly.
The performances from the younger members of the family are also relatively solid, especially from Dianna Agron of Glee fame. Besson doesn’t neglect these younger characters and the film is better for it. Each member of the family has their own story and place. The younger actors may not match the standard of performance from their older cast mates, but that would be asking a lot.
If the film were lacking such masterful performances, it would likely fail. The Family doesn’t ever seem to completely find its footing. While it shifts between moments of violent dark comedy to sentimentality, the blending is far from smooth. There are a few problems with the film that are difficult to ignore. Mainly, some of the coincidences and developments in the narrative are hard to swallow. It’s definitely nothing to lose sleep over, as Bessen does manage to deliver some highly entertaining moments on screen.
What is truly unappealing about this film is the way it uses violence. I’m all for gratuitous violence, but it doesn’t sit quite right in this movie. Luc Besson constructs scenes of heavy violence seemingly in the name of black comedy – it doesn’t work out that way. Rather, the violence on screen leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Each member of the Manzoni family seems to flare to anger in a heartbeat, triggered by the most trivial and insignificant actions. Besson just doesn’t quite master the use of such brutality; coming across as rather unpleasant than humorous.
While there are redeeming elements in this film, it is ultimately far from extraordinary. At the end of the day, despite the strength of the performances, it’s always preferable to remember De Niro for Goodfellas. It may be worth a watch and you may even enjoy it, but I doubt you will remember this film after it’s left the big screen and moved onto the shelf.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10