The Family

The Family“You don’t waste any time.”  “I ain’t got time to waste.”

I think I speak for everyone when I say that seeing Robert De Niro‘s face in a movie trailer is as likely to cause dread as it does interest.  I’ll put you out of your misery right now.  You have nothing to fear from The Family (2013).  It isn’t ambitious, almost nothing from writer/director Luc Besson could ever really be described in that way, but it is competent and entertaining.  De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, a former neighborhood boss from Brooklyn who ratted out his “friends” to keep himself alive.  Now he’s in the witness protection program with Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) as his case officer.  The Manzoni clan has a penchant for trouble-making.  Giovanni finds his patience is tried at every corner and uses violence to resolve the situation.  The mother, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), usually runs into conflict with the local grocers.  The son, Warren (John D’Leo), usually plugs himself into the local schoolyard underworld using gangland tactics.  The daughter, Belle (Dianna Agron), inherited Mom’s beauty and Dad’s violent response mechanism.  Needless to say, they’re on their way to a new home and Stansfield is running out of patience.  But the old mobsters are still on Manzoni’s trail, with a $20 million bounty out for the whole family.

This movie is just for fun.  Besson (co-writing with Michael Caleo) puts in a little bit of deeper drama to give the movie some kind of weight, but it’s just enough to maintain momentum.  This is Besson’s modus operandi, bringing French frivolity to the action-thriller genre with a kernel of humanity.  It requires a delicate balance or else the whole project gets upturned.  Consider Léon: The Professional (1994) against Transporter 2 (2005) or Taken (2008) against Colombiana (2011).  The usual problem in the misses (not to say “failures”) is that the villains are too ridiculous, too frivolous to be accepted.  If The Family has a flaw–and it is a new one–it’s that the villains are mostly absent, unless of course the whole family are villains.  That is certainly supportable.  The ease with which I accepted the Manzonis as the sympathetic players in the piece speaks either to the power of stardom or my distaste for the French.  Certainly, Besson is relying on their snobbery to make the Manzoni’s terror spree a comic one.  The reliance is well justified.

As you might expect from the team, the theater experience is going to be an excellent one.  I was fully engaged in the story, laughed a great deal (despite the fact that there were only four people in the theater), and basically enjoyed myself.  But there are about ten minutes I would have liked to get out of the movie that wasn’t there.  They spent a great deal of time building up the setting and the family dynamic, but the final act felt rushed and underdeveloped.  The kinetic climax divvies out the kills a little too equitably and too quickly.  The danger had passed before I realized it because it ended on a thud rather than a bang.  That is to say, it felt contrived rather than choreographed.  I wanted to know more about Manzoni’s memoirs, which might have been a film unto itself, and Stansfield’s role in the story (which is teased in one scene).  There was just so much in there that makes the film attractive without getting its full due to make it a classic.  And I hazard that there was a classic somewhere in this project.

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About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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One Response to The Family

  1. Pingback: Top 13 Films of 2013 | Prof. Ratigan Reviews

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