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The Family

2013 | 111 min | R | 2.39:1

The Family


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Theatrical release date

 13 September, 2013
 22 November, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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The Family


Screenshots from The Family Blu-ray

The Family Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 13, 2013

“The Family” is a rare English-language action outing for co-writer/director Luc Besson. Recently tackling political pictures (2011’s “The Lady”) and family fare (the “Arthur and the Minimoys” trilogy), Besson hasn’t touched idiosyncratic material like this since 1994’s “The Professional,” which ended up as one of his finest cinematic achievements. “The Family” doesn’t rate as high, which comes to be a frustrating revelation as the feature lumbers from one incident to the next, unsure of its tone or its storytelling cohesiveness. It’s not a terrible effort from the vastly talented helmer, but one that’s tremendously disappointing, failing to live to the promise of its premise, while its sense of humor is funereal at best.

A former mobster who’s been marked for death by a New York City don, Giovanni (Robert De Niro) has been placed into the witness protection system for safekeeping, monitored by Agent Quintiliani (Tommy Lee Jones). Traveling to Normandy with wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), son Warren (John D’Leo), and daughter Belle (Dianna Agron), Giovanni settles into a dilapidated home with brown water and inquisitive neighbors. Taking cover as an author, the former made man decides to write out his memoirs, reflecting on his complicated life. Frustrated with the French and a little bored, Maggie tries to make a positive impression, turning to the church to cleanse herself of sin. John quickly works over the cliques at school, using his skills as a con artist to manipulate the student body, making a few bucks along the way. And Belle falls in love with her math tutor, expecting to be swept away by the romance, only to realize the harsh reality of trust. As the family figures out their problems, a greater threat in mafia hitman Rocco (Jon Freda) comes to town, looking to silence Giovanni for good.

The trouble with “The Family” is that it’s based on a novel, “Malavita” by Tonio Benaacquista, offering a specific narrative direction for the screenplay that doesn’t always fit the needs of the feature. Taking off into four different directions, the demands of characterization pin Besson to the ground, leaving him overwhelmed with the arrangement of motivations and payoffs, rendering the picture as more of an unfinished blur than a straight-up wreck. Depth is welcome here, but there’s too much business swarming around “The Family,” shortchanging a character like Maggie, who disappears from the movie for long periods of time, saddled with a confessional liberation arc that’s robbed of its comedic bite. Belle is an intriguing personality, a seemingly innocent teen who’s open to physically lashing out at those who wrong her, but her dalliance with love and sex, bringing her to the brink of suicide, doesn’t make much sense. Giovanni is also clouded as the lead character, chasing a subplot that has the former enforcer trying to fix the water problem, only to beat his way through fraudulent plumbers and dismissive politicians.

A simplification of narrative goals would’ve allowed “The Family” to breathe easier, yet Besson is tied to a splintered literary structure that wanders about, unable to braid together as a tightly as the production imagines. It’s a shame, since the actors appear up for anything, with De Niro managing a return to mob life with some dignity, having more fun portraying an inspired writer than a tough guy. Better are the kids, watching Agron submit shockingly secure work as the heartbroken daughter, selling the intensity of the teen with credible concentration, while D’Leo charms as a manipulator, playing up Warren’s skills of smooth talk and designs of comeuppance. The ensemble is capable of so much more than what “The Family” is willing to give, while an old pro like Jones looks positively bored by his softball supporting role, gliding through the feature, mentally cashing his paycheck.

“The Family” aims for a darkly comic presence, but it rarely masters such a vibe. Besson can be counted on for a few winning sight gags, but most of the humor falls flat, including a ridiculous aside that finds Giovanni sitting through a screening of “Goodfellas” with a group of eager French citizens hungry to understand the headspace of American mob. It’s this type of transparent mischief that comes across on the desperate side. The violent highlights of the feature are more amusing, witnessing these composed characters regress to their New York City attitude, slapping around those who dare to disrespect them.

Besson serves up an explosive finale pitting Giovanni and his loved ones against Rocco and his brutes, adding a slight cartoon element to the picture that’s awkward and unfulfilling. Noise is not what this film needs, especially when a rich sense of humor and subplot follow-through is almost entirely missing. While it’s swell to have Besson back in a genre he’s been known to excel in, “The Family” just doesn’t come together for him, revealing the Frenchman’s rustiness with dark comedy and askew characterization.

Starring: Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, Dominic Chianese, David Belle
Director: Luc Besson

» See full cast & crew

The Family, Forum Discussions

Last post
The Family Guy Discussion Thread. 162 Oct 01, 2011
'The Family'- Robert DeNiro 53 Oct 19, 2013

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