THE FAMILY. Starring Robert de Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo.
Directed by Luc Besson. 112 minutes. Rated MA 15+ (strong violence).
The Family sounds like an innocuous title for a situation comedy. Actually, there are some touches of situation comedy, but the film is definitely not innocuous.
This is the story of a Mafia family, where all the members of the family can be callous and brutal, and there are such episodes for each of them throughout the film, even when they are in witness protection, with surveillance by FBI offices. They’re a troublesome family, especially the head of the family, Giovanni Manzoni, ready to erupt in violence, causing the FBI to have the family continually on the move for their safety sake. An imprisoned Mafia chief in the US keeps sending killers to get them and to recover money stolen.
The film opens with a family being shot by hitmen. They resemble the family of the film, who, for their cover, are called the Blake family. At this time, despite their wishing to be on the Riviera, they have been relocated to a small town in Normandy. They arrive under cover of night. The accommodation is somewhat ramshackle, they find their possessions have been transferred, though they lack a television set. The FBI are not ultra-efficient. So far, so mysterious.
Father is played by Robert De Niro, just a variation (or only a little variation) on his usual performances, though he has an amusing opportunity later in the film to be invited to a local film screening to discuss Some Came Running. But the wrong film has turned up. It is Goodfellas and he has to make comments on the film and gives a speech about the Mafia. His character in this film is often close enough to that of his character in Goodfellas. He does not live peacefully in the town, claims that he is a writer and does begin some kind of autobiography which is not appreciated by the FBI officer in charge, played by Tommy Lee Jones as his usual Tommy Lee Jones persona.
Mother is played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Impatient at the supermarkets’ scorning of Americans and their liking for peanut butter, she sets up an explosion which destroys the supermarket. And that is just on the first day. She does encounter a priest while looking at stained glass windows in a church, eventually goes to confession pouring it all out, and turns up for a charity event to the utter dismay of the priest who forgets his seal of confession and vigorously denounces her and tries to get rid of her.
The 17 year old daughter becomes involved with a student teacher at her school, falling rapturously and love, having sexual experience, only to find that he says he is not ready. As she contemplates suicide on the top of a church, fortunately for her, the hitmen arrive and she has to go to save her family. The 14 year old boy is bashed by some of the school thugs, but is able to set up a kind of protection racket in the school.
A lot of this is intended to be funny. However, the family is so obnoxious with their behaviour that it is hard to have any sympathy for them. Admittedly, the Mafia head in prison is ruthless and wants to get rid of them and sends a very large squad to do the deed. It is not difficult to anticipate the body count at the end of the film - not the family, as they have to pack up and move again.
The film was directed by Luc Besson who began a successful career as a director in the 1980s with offbeat films like The Big Blue, then moving into action films like Nikita and The Professional. While he directed the fine biography of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, he has specialized in producing a great number of violent, even over-violent action shows like The Transporter series or the Taken series.
Despite the attempts to be funny, the film is often ugly and brutal.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.