If you were to go back to the early 1980s, and describe to somebody exactly the sort of role you’d like to see Robert De Niro playing 30 years down the line and later on in life, you’d probably opt for a graceful, retired mob boss of the Marlon Brando ilk. Though on paper that’s exactly the role we’re seeing him undertake in Luc Besson’s The Family, sadly it’s not quite the calibre of movie we may have envisaged, in what is a distinctly underwhelming comedy thriller, particularly when considering the talent involved.
De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni – the head of a notorious mafia clan, but more importantly, the head of a exacting household consisting of his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and kids Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo), who have had to move home once again as part of a witness protection programme, this time settling in Northern France. With the simple task of merely having to blend into the background, it seems that old habits die hard, as the Italian-American family stick out like a sore thumb, attracting the attention of a few people they’d rather not attract the attention of, despite their protector Robert Stansfield’s (Tommy Lee Jones) best efforts in securing their safety.
Though a harmless and relatively enjoyable piece of cinema, given the credentials of the cast and the man in the director’s chair, it’s safe to say more had been expected, as the word ‘harmless’ shouldn’t be anywhere near the likes of De Niro and Lee Jones. It’s simply too much of a comedy, with too many artificial sequences that are supposedly humorous and light hearted – when the potentially compelling aspects to this tale derive from the suspense of this family being pursued by various hit-men. It’s also frustrating because De Niro’s Manzoni spends the vast majority of the picture alluding to his incredible life story, yet unfortunately, we don’t actually get to see any of it. Manzoni remains convinced that had written down his story nobody wouldn’t have believed him, and yet we never truly find out exactly what it was that is quite so unbelievable, summing up what is a particularly woeful screenplay.
None of the characters are particularly likeable either, and are all needlessly vicious for no reason. They’re the sort of tourists that go abroad and then act miffed at the fact the locals don’t speak their language. They attack people for no reason, and their violent and unreasonable tendencies make it difficult to then root for their survival, something of a problem given this entire film is about a family that are being targeted by murderers. I mean, who blows up a shop and destroys someone’s livelihood for no reason, because the clerk was a little supercilious? Honestly.
To top off what is ultimately a disappointing turn from the director who brought us the likes of Léon and Nikita, he pays homage to Goodfellas in this movie, in a predictable and cringe-worthy scene whereby De Niro discusses the Martin Scorsese production at a local film club (geddit?). If there is one thing we should avoid seeing in The Family, is a reference to arguably the finest ever American gangster flick, because it all it does is seek in reminding us that this particular endeavour isn’t quite up to scratch.