Monday, September 16, 2013

Review 204: "The Family"

"It's a little rough around the edges."

Mob and Dad

      The Family was released on September 13, 2013. Based on the novel Malvita (Badfellas) by Tonino Benacquista, the film is directed by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) and written by him, as well as Michael Caleo (Ironside (2013)). The film follows a former family of the mob, father Giovanni (Robert De Niro), mother Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) and son Warren (John D'Leo) who are forced to go into witness protection after snitching on the mob. Guided by witness protection agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), they move to a small town in France, where they struggle to adjust to normal family life. But when the mob gets wind of their location, the family is forced to make it's final stand.

Yeah, I feel that way too.
Witless Protection
      The Family almost feels like it's in witness protection itself. At it's core, The Family strives to be an action-comedy. It was advertised that way, the story goes that way and the characters behave that way. And yet, the final product tries so hard to disguise itself as a character drama that it makes you wonder if it wasn't trying to avoid running into an old girlfriend. Not that I'd know anything about that. The Family, despite what you were expecting, contains very little comedy or action. For the most part, the film tries to play itself off as a straight mob movie and it doesn't quite work. The film builds itself around the lives of the titicular family, however, it's really hard to get invested in what it's essentially the lives of stock images of mob members. De Niro is the patriarch trying to deal with his violent ways, Pfeiffer is the mother trying to keep everyone together, Agron is the daughter falling in love for the first time, D'Leo is the gangster-in-training and Jones is the hard-ass agent. None of the characters grow beyond their basic characteristic, which would have worked in a good action-comedy, but in the drama the film pretends to be, it makes for a stunningly uninteresting cast of characters. 


      That's not to say the cast isn't good. Okay, sure, D'Leo isn't very good and has the range of a relation where all the Y-values are zero and Jones is pretty badly phoning it in. Pfeiffer, though, is pretty spot on in a role where she really has nothing to do and Agron handles some of the more absurdly dark moments of the film, almost all of which are placed on her shoulders, very well. De Niro, though, never seems to have gotten the memo that this was now a serious film and plays his character like he were still in an action-comedy. It's too bad really because the film had a lot of potential. Had they stuck more to the character drama and developed the characters more, the film could have been a smart drama. Or had the stuck closer to the action-comedy, the film could have been really fun. In the end it just feels like the filmmakers couldn't make up their minds. All the pieces are their and the film just doesn't know what to do with them so they ignore them and hope it sorts itself out like a 5-year old playing with a Lego set. The final product is just so lifeless and uninteresting that it makes a better lullaby that a mob movie, with a final action climax that is the exact definition of the word anti-climax.

I don't think he likes my review...
 The Verdict

      The Family tries hard but isn't even sure of what game it's playing. While all the pieces and set-ups play like an action-comedy, the film acts so serious that it feels more like a failed character drama. Some of the cast try hard, but they are lost in uninteresting characters with only the basic level of characterization. And since the whole film is built around them, the end product is one of the dullest film's I've ever seen in theaters. And what's worse, there is a good film shining out from underneath all of the seriousness. Overall, a real disappointment. The Family gets 2 and a a half stars out of 6.

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