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Crimes and Misdirection

by Laura Leon on September 18, 2013

The Family
Directed by Luc Besson


They look harmless: Pfeiffer and De Niro in THE FAMILY

Based on an action novel by Tonino Benacquista, The Family is an unhappy merger between crime drama and buddy comedy. After ratting out his mob buddies, Giovanne Manzoni (Robert De Niro) and his family go into the witness protection program. The trouble is that the Manzonis have a tendency to solve even the smallest of everyday problems with violence, necessitating their removal from several homes and assumed identities, to the point that, at movie’s start, they’re trying to settle into Normandy—France—as the Blakes.

Mom Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) burns down the local grocery after its owner and customers make fun of American dietary habits. Daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) beats a flirty pimple-faced teenager with a tennis racket, and son Warren (John D’Leo) uses manipulative wiles to take over the school’s black market, while also giving brutal payback to a jock. Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), the FBI agent assigned to protect the Manzonis, can only hang his head in frustration, which is pretty much what Jones himself might have done while filming this trifle.

Director Luc Besson has always been good at melding high-powered action with incongruous touches of humor—think La Femme Nikita and The Professional. Here, however, he fails to temper the various aspects of his story in such a way to prove anywhere near as pleasing as those earlier films. The violence is off the charts, and it’s hard to find anything remotely amusing about dragging a man for miles by a rope from a car—let alone to recognize the humanity in a character, however otherwise benign, who would do such a thing. When the murderous rampages finally hit too close to home, and drag in Maggie and the kids, the after-effects are clearly visible in their faces; Gio, going by the name Fred, assumes the experience has just made them that much closer.

Attempts to make “Fred” and Stansfield into some sort of craggy best friends is forced and poorly executed. This is a shame, because it might have been amusing to see De Niro and Jones play off that bromance vibe. Only Agron and D’Leo hold our interest, conveying the close ties their sibling characters enjoy, having endured such tremendous upheavals.