The best thing, worst thing, and main thing about the new De Niro mob movie “The Family” in about the time it takes to watch the trailer.
When you’re the guy behind “The Fifth Element” and “Taken” I’m willing to cut you some slack, but come on Luc, you have to do better than this.
“The Family” is Luc Besson’s latest starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as the parentals in a family unit in witness protection after leaving the mafia. Tommy Lee Jones jumps in on occasion as the agent trying to keep them under wraps. All right! De Niro and Pfeiffer in a Luc Besson directed mob movie? This has to work! Right? You’d think so wouldn’t you? and yet while it true that there are moments of inspiration here, overall “The Family” just doesn’t gel. Let’s start with what does work.
First, the acting. Down the line I was impressed with the performances in this. It’s not a surprise that De Niro nails the mob man on the run, nor should it be that Pfeiffer pulls it off as well. And of course Tommy Lee Jones is incredible, I’m not quite sure he knows how to not be. But what did surprise me were the two kids. I’m not sure we’d know the son from anything, but the girl is the cheerleader Quinn from “Glee” and both of them give really powerful performances as kids coping with what it means to be mob kids and in witness protection. I also have to give props to Luc Besson’s knack for creating almost operatic sequences of violence that are both visually engaging and further the intensity of the film. But the best thing for me? It’s a strange one this time. It’s France. I love that this movie takes place in a very real version of France. You can tell Luc has a lot of respect for his homeland and it adds a quirky element to the film that I think works perfectly.
The problem is that the movie can’t decide what kind of mob film it wants to be and the shifts in tone can be off putting and make the whole thing feel a bit disjointed. At points it wants to be a family romp comedy, at times it wants to be a serious look at tragedy and processing life change, and other times it wants to be a shoot em up action flick. This isn’t helped by the fact that each member of the family has their own plot that seems strangely disconnected from any kind of central theme of connective tissue. There is a romance plot line for the daughter that seems as out of place and unnecessary as any I’ve seen this year. And that’s not even the worst thing! The worst thing is that the plot just seems flat out lazy at times. There is more plot convenience here than I’ve seen in a long time. Need a character to see something? Just have them miraculously be at the place it happens. In fact, I don’t want to give too much away, but there is information that accidentally gets discovered in this in probably the most ridiculous way I’ve ever seen. Like, roll your eyes, “Come on, that would never happen” type stuff. and all these things together make the movie a bit difficult to stay with.
Overall, “The Family” is a well acted, at times beautiful and poignant film that is unfortunately torn apart by constant shifts in tone and an inability to create believable plot lines. I give it a C
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