There are three things that can be taken away from a viewing of The Family: ‘fuck’ is a catchphrase favourite, the French really do hate the Americans, and Michelle Pfeiffer does a horrible Brooklyn accent. When this list is over, the rest of the film is remembered as rather vague, more attuned to violence in its most creative forms than consideration for where the plot is actually headed.
Is it a comedy? Is it action? Is it a family drama? Is it a comment on the impact of American commercial culture upon hostile and unforgiving Europe? It’s hard to say whether even the director knows the answer.
Based on the French novel Malavita, The Family narrates the story of an American family of four placed under the witness protection programme six years ago, who have just been relocated to a small village in the North of France. After mounting trouble inside the organisation the Dad (De Niro), an ex-Mafia Boss, has snitched on the Mob and landed one of its most senior members in prison. Cue a bloodthirsty struggle between the FBI and the Mob, as they both seek to control the future of the family in hiding.
What complicates the situation however, is the inability of the family to remain calm and not maim/beat/blow up/murder anyone or anything that winds them up the wrong way. Just to keep it interesting, each individual has their own brand of anger management issue, from disrespecting officials to school bullies.
There are some rare scenes of genuine merit, where real emotion manages to break through the tirade of monotonous bone-breaking. The most daring of these is a community debate night, complete with a screening of Goodfellas. It’s a piece of irony that reminds us of De Niro’s real gangster roots, and there’s a brief moment of sadness to see the type of character he’s playing now, a shadow of that former daring.
What is particularly disappointing about this film is the number of talented people it brings together, and then wastes. Luc Besson is in the director’s chair, a growing name in the action movie industry, his previous accolades including the writing of Taken, From Paris With Love, and The Transporter. Legendary actor Robert De Niro, alongside the well-known faces of Tommy Lee Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer, all star, a grouping with a total of fourteen combined Oscar wins and nominations. So why is the execution so poor?
It has to be the premise. The film just doesn’t come together as a complete whole, which is only worsened by the scriptwriters bringing in the occasional laugh, immediately followed up by a grisly piece of violence. There is also something too tenuous, almost ludicrous, about key links that hold major plot twists together. As a result, the audience is left stranded, both emotionally and intellectually. For those brave people who attempt to make some sense of it all, the conclusion doesn’t make any of it clearer.
The Family had potential to be an original crime film which balanced elements of dry wit with shocking yet pointed action violence. The attempt is certainly made, but the failure is obvious before the plot even has a chance to get going. By the time the final scene rolls round, the family are on their own in every sense, because they’ll get no sympathy from an audience too confused and bored to care.
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