Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Family

Lowdown: An American gangster's family life as it hides in French witness protection.
The Family is a weird movie.
It revolves around an idea with great potential. It has great names, like Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones. Some of its cast have met before, like - say - on the set of Stardust. And as director, it's got a very famous name behind it: Luc Besson. So why is it that The Family falls flat on its face? How come a movie such as this, with all of its heavyweight potential, feels like it doesn't know what it is trying to tell us?
The core idea is not far enough from that of the TV series Lilyhammer: an American gangster turned snitch, De Niro, is hiding in France under some sort of a witness protection program. That program, supervised by Lee Jones, has De Niro and family - including wife Pfeiffer and teenage son and daughter - move frequently across France as it seeks shelter from the gangster killers always on its tail.
As The Family starts, we witness our family arrive at a particularly boring section of Normandy. We see the parents as they assimilate (or not) into their new town; we watch the kids as they stand out like Americans in France at their new school; and we also watch as the baddie gangsters close in on our family. There are many story threads here, with all family members receiving attention, but that attention comes at the price of loss of focus. Perhaps the only common thread in all the stories is how the gangster mentality always seems to prevail with our family members? Or the frequent jokes on behalf of the French?
The Family feels like some sort of an "ode to gangsters of days gone by". It does seem to be set during the nineties, it includes a De Niro watching himself in Goodfellas, and in the credits list there is the name of one Martin Scorsese. Alas, with all the good intentions, The Family simply lacks cohesiveness. Even the action at its end is not enough to save it from the doom of mediocrity.
If I am allowed to offer my hypothesis as to the source of all problems in The Family, I would simply point my finger at Besson. The problems The Family is suffering from repeat in other movies of his, even in The Fifth Element. Sure, the latter is good entertainment; however, it is most definitely also a collection of great ideas (and also copied ideas, but let's ignore that for now), most of which are left far from full exploitation. The Family simply takes things a step further.
Overall: No wonder most families are dysfunctional. 2 out of 5 stars.

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