The Manzoni family is moved, under the witness relocation programme, from Brooklyn to Normandy after the patriarch Gio (Robert DeNiro) snitches on his friends. Fitting in soon becomes problematic, however, as old family habits seem to die hard.
Sometimes, it is hard to fathom what Luc Besson is thinking. Before last year’s disappointing Lockout – sorry, Ireland! – which he produced and did some script work on, Besson brought us The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, which was beautiful, but then he returns, after The Lady of course, with The Family, a film that is so tonally all over the place that it is easy to see what Besson was trying to achieve, but hard to see how he missed it.
The cast is made up of Robert DeNiro, playing reformed Mafia boss Gio, Michelle Pfeiffer as his wife, Dianna Agron as their daughter Belle and John D’Leo as their son Warren. Tommy Lee Jones also stars as the agent assigned to watch over the family. DeNiro doesn’t do anything new or exciting here; although he is fun to watch as he plays a former criminal with a heart, and a large ego. Michelle Pfeiffer looks old, and her accent wanders all around the world, but there is something interesting in her manic eyes and her interactions with DeNiro. Dianna Agron has some interesting moments as Belle, even though she quickly fades from farcial to annoying and John D’Leo is simply forgettable. The double act of DeNiro and Lee Jones is an interesting one, and they are well matched.
The trouble with the film is simple; Luc Besson went big, but not big enough. Early in the film, each character over reacts to a small slight – giving us a great scene where Agron serves up justice with a tennis racquet – but they soon begin to tone down their actions, leaving the film feeling deflated and uninteresting. The film swings from sentimentality to violence and back again, but it is only when it is over the top and farcical that it actually works.
As well as this, with a 112 minute running time, The Family is simply too long. Perhaps a more savage edit could have saved some of the darker, funnier elements of the film. As it is, they are quickly forgotten. The running time also means that the pacing is a mess.
Besson’s script is a little embarrassing at times, leaving us to wonder why we should care about such blundering fools, and a moment where DeNiro as Gio suddenly has to discuss a Robert DeNiro performance in a Martin Scorsese film feels a little too contrived and convenient; even as Besson winks at the audience, we shy away and wish we were somewhere else.
In all, The Family should have been a dark farce about a group of people who cannot change, no matter how many times they change their names, but instead it is an uneven, badly paced mess that feels a little too self indulgent. Pfeiffer gives a good performance, however, and Dianna Agron keeping her schoolgirl persona going a little while longer is good for a giggle or two. DeNiro and Lee Jones are a rapid-fire pleasure to watch, but this is not enough to save The Family from imploding.