The Family, |
directed by Luc Bresson
I had read so many bad reviews of The Family that I almost passed on it, but intuition said it was going to be better than the critics said.
Robert De Niro, who could play his role if he contracted amnesia, portrays the head of a mafia family hiding out in France in the witness protection program. He is an unapologetic mob boss who, unfortunately, has no cut-off switch on his mouth. He prides himself on his brutal honesty and will tell you what's on his mind. He is also, like his whole family, a total sociopath. His family -- wife Michelle Pfeiffer, daughter Diana Agron and son John D'Leo -- are as sociopathic as he is; they're on their third home in France since they have to keep moving every 90 days or so because someone in the family has caused too much trouble for them to go unnoticed.
And did I mention that the De Niro character has a $20 million bounty on his head, offered up by the mobsters he has ratted out?
When we meet them, they are setting up in Florence, having had to leave their Paris home. Their stay there gets off to a shaky start when Maggie (Pfeiffer) is dissed by the local shopkeeper and a couple of older women in his grocery store. She retaliates by blowing up his shop.
The kids have a little trouble in school, which they resolve nicely by setting up a complicated series of moves to get 14-year-old Warren (D'Leo) in position to get revenge on the crowd of seniors who beat him up. Belle (Agron) gives this same group of kids lessons in dating etiquette with a wickedly handled tennis racket.
This is a family you don't want to mess with.
Fred Blake (De Niro) ups the ante by finding a typewriter when he's cleaning out the garage of their current house. He impulsively decides that his cover will be a writer and sets out to write his memoirs, fragments of which we hear in voiceover. Of course, he also will not be dissed. A plumber who tries to rip him off learns the hard way that you just don't do that, as does an executive at the local treatment plant.
While all of this is going on, mobsters are trying to locate the family in order to take them out.
And this is a comedy.
From a plot summary, it doesn't sound very funny, and even the friendliest viewer is going to have to admit that comedy isn't director Luc Besson's strong suit. Still, this is a cast that knows how to tweak the funny in material, and they do; most of the movie is played slightly askew, for laughs, and it works.
I say most of the movie because the final 20 minutes come down to an action-filled shootout that is not played for laughs at all.
Critics have raised three major complaints about the movie. Let me state and respond to each.
1: De Niro offers nothing new. He has played this gangster character for so long that he has it down pat and can just walk through it. True, he has played the character many times and, true, he offers another variation on it in The Family. However, this is a deliberate scripted choice; he is literally playing the Wiseguys character. In one scene, in his role as American writer, he is invited to participate in a debate after a showing of Some Came Running. However, the wrong film shows up and he watches Wiseguys and then analyzes the background of the character he played in it.
2: Michelle Pfeiffer plays the character she played in Married to the Mob, except this time her accent slips. Face it, anyone who doesn't realize that the movie took advantage of the resonance between her old character and this one shouldn't be reviewing movies. As for her accent, it wasn't perfect but it also wasn't a problem.
3: The movie is too violent. The filmmakers were going for a genuine movie not a slapstick comedy. The violence added verisimilitude. After all, this is a movie about mobsters, and they are not known for playing ping-pong with their enemies. The opening scene foreshadows the violence that is to come, so no one should have been shocked by it. It is a cliche to say it, but the violence was necessary for character-building and thematic reasons. It wasn't downplayed but to underplay it would have been dishonest.
My advice? Don't read the reviews. See the movie.
Michael Scott Cain
28 September 2013
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