×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Family’

Curiously airless, weightless and tonally uncertain, Luc Besson's mafia comedy falls flat.

With:

Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, Tommy Lee Jones, Jimmy Palumbo, Domenick Lombardozzi.

When properly applied, bad taste can have a wonderfully liberating, palliative effect, and contemporary French cinema has produced few more discerning mainstream vulgarians than Luc Besson. But without any sense of joy in transgression, or real humor behind all the bloody irony, his mafia comedy “The Family” falls flat. Curiously airless, weightless and tonally uncertain, the pic mixes mass murder, dismemberment and rape threats with sappy sentimentality, fish-out-of-water gags and groan-worthy meta-humor, yet very little of it manages to leave any impression. Worth seeing only to catch cast standout Michelle Pfeiffer recapture hints of the knives-out nastiness of her “Scarface” and “Married to the Mob” roles, this Relativity release nonetheless ought to do decent business.

It isn’t that “The Family” doesn’t have any good ideas. In fact, it might have too many. Picking up with a mafia family as they arrive at a creaky house in Normandy — the latest of many witness-relocation destinations for Brooklyn wiseguy-turned-snitch Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) — Besson would seem to have a full palette with which to paint. Watching Giovanni employ leg-breaking tactics to negotiate buck-passing French bureaucracy theoretically ought to resonate with disgruntled expats and Francophobes. (And in surer hands, De Niro’s role as a domesticated heavy still very much in touch with his sociopathic tendencies could have been a sly upending of his “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents” parts.) Then there’s his 17-year-old daughter, Belle (Dianna Agron), whose sudden shifts from moony high-school romanticism to brutal violence would seem to have plenty of potential. And the Cosa Nostra strategies 14-year-old Warren (John D’Leo) uses to negotiate lycee politics could have perhaps made for a whole film on their own.

None of these are the most original of conceits (and the script never bothers to complicate or question any of its dunderheaded-Americans/effete-Frenchmen stereotypes), though they ought to at least be expected to provide decent distraction from the central plotline pitting Giovanni against a tireless would-be assassin (Jimmy Palumbo). But the film never seems aware it can follow any of these paths to interesting destinations, instead simply tossing a handful of one-joke sketches into a narrative Cuisinart and serving the resulting puree raw.

Always an efficient orchestrator of balls-out ultraviolence, Besson has never quite grasped the rhythms of English-language comedy, and his earlier English pictures, like “The Fifth Element,” largely succeeded through megalomaniacal moxie alone. “The Family” showcases a slower, quieter strain of Besson’s signature style, yet it’s scarcely any smarter, and even its better comedic ideas wind up diluted by overly orchestrated setups or fumbled payoffs.

There’s no guilty glee in the sight of mob mother Maggie (Pfeiffer) blowing up a grocery store whose proprietor dares scoff at her peanut-butter fixation, and the explanation for an early scene in which the supposedly undercover family throws a barbecue for the entire town seems to have been left on the cutting-room floor. (The less said about the Martin Scorsese reference, the better.) For a film set in Normandy from a French writer-director (Besson and Michael Caleo adapted the script from Tonino Benacquista’s novel), it never even feels particularly French: Having every character onscreen speak perfect English is obviously a commercial necessity, yet it’s scarcely acknowledged that this is not the town’s native language.

These minor quibbles aside, “The Family” is technically well made, and Besson is still capable of staging horrifying murders and torture scenes in a uniquely casual, matter-of-fact way. A characteristically sharp Pfeiffer provides most of the pic’s genuine laughs and nearest attempts at actual empathy, and it must be said that De Niro is at least never caught sleepwalking. Tommy Lee Jones, however, seems entirely disengaged in his scenes as Giovanni’s FBI handler.

Film Review: 'The Family'

Reviewed at the Landmark, Los Angeles, Sept. 11, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 111 MIN.

Production:

A Relativity Media release of a Relativity and EuropaCorp presentation of a Relativity, EuropaCorp, TF1 Films, Grive Prods. production. Produced by Virginie Besson-Silla, Ryan Kavanaugh. Executive producers, Martin Scorsese, Tucker Tooley. Co-executive producers, Ron Burkle, Jason Colbeck.

Crew:

Directed by Luc Besson. Screenplay, Besson, Michael Caleo, from the novel “Malavita” by Tonino Benacquista. Camera (color), Thierry Arbogast; editor, Julien Rey; music, Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine; production designer, Hugues Tissandier; costume designer, Olivier Beriot; art directors, Gilles Boillot, Eric Dean, Dominique Moisan, Stephane Robuchon, Thierry Zemmour; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/Datasat), Didier Lozahic, Ken Yasumoto; re-recording mixer, Matthieu Dallaporta; assistant director; Ludovic Bernanrd; casting, Nathalie Cheron, Amanda Mackey Johnson.

With:

Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, Tommy Lee Jones, Jimmy Palumbo, Domenick Lombardozzi.

More Film

  • Tessa Thompson'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Tessa Thompson Says Valkyrie Would Spoon Captain Marvel, Thor

    Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and upcoming “Avengers: Endgame,” had no problem addressing speculation about the character’s sexuality at the “Endgame” red carpet premiere Monday. The “Sorry to Bother You” actress explained that she played her Marvel character as bisexual. “In the canon, [Valkyrie] is bisexual. You see her with [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    Writers Guild Says Over 7,000 Members Have Fired Agents

    Over 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America have fired their talent agents, the Hollywood union said on Monday. As promised, the guild delivered a first round of termination letters to agents in a show of support for the WGA’s full-on war with the Association of Talent Agents. “Today the Guild delivered a first [...]

  • BRAZILIAN FLAGFRENCH OPEN TENNIS, PARIS, FRANCE

    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, [...]

  • David Leitch Kelly McCormick

    'Hobbs & Shaw' Director David Leitch, Kelly McCormick Sign First-Look Deal With Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Universal Pictures is signing David Leitch, his longtime producing partner, Kelly McCormick and their recently founded 87North Production banner to a first-look production deal. “David and Kelly have established themselves as a distinctive, stylish filmmaking team who can do it all, from contained thrillers to franchise tentpoles,” said Universal’s president Peter Cramer. “We are confident [...]

  • Still from cannes competition film "Parasite"

    Cannes: Bong Joon-ho Says ‘Parasite’ Is Too Local to Win Competition

    Having been partially responsible for the Netflix fall out with the Cannes Film Festival, “Okja” and “Snowpiercer” director Bong Joon-ho returns to Cannes competition this year with conventionally- financed “Parasite.” But the Korean-language film is a tragicomedy that Bong says may be too nuanced for the festival. “Cannes always makes me feel excited, fresh, and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content