Giovanni Manzoni (De Niro), now known (thanks to the witness protection program) as Fred Blake, isn’t far off from what Goodfellas’ Henry Hill might’ve become if we’d seen more of his life in suburbia. Removed from his Mafioso lifestyle, Giovanni just can’t stay out of trouble long enough to keep his family in one place for any length of time. Still hotly pursued by the mob for putting Don Luchese (Stan Carp) in prison, the FBI has relocated the Manzoni’s to Normandy, France.
Suffice it to say, they aren’t fitting in well with the locals. Giovanni’s wife, Maggie (Pfeiffer), bombs the grocery store after the manager mocks her request for peanut butter. His high school-aged kids are no less balanced. Belle (Glee’s Dianna Agron) nearly cripples a male student for making a pass at her. Warren (John D’Leo) organizes a group of students to use as his own private mafia.
The most interesting aspect of The Family is Giovanni’s desire to craft an honest memoir, perhaps to alleviate the guilt he feels over all the lives he has taken throughout his career. De Niro milks laughs from Giovanni’s attempts to fit in with the neighbors, but things take a darker turn when he tries to uncover the source of his home’s brown tap water. Some of his actions are more than a tad bit sadistic, even given the comedic nature of the material. Eventually, in a twist so off-the-wall that it works, Warren manages to inadvertently alert the mobsters back in the U.S. of the Manzoni’s whereabouts.
The mix of black comedy and brutal action takes a third-act turn that mostly eliminates the former, taking the latter to new heights. For anyone in the mood for something a bit mean, lowdown, and spiteful, The Family will fit the bill. But with generally unsympathetic characters, not to mention Tommy Lee Jones wasted in the disposable role of FBI agent Stansfield (tasked with protecting the Manzonis), this hardly qualifies as a highpoint in Besson’s filmography.
No such mixed feelings to express when it comes to 20th Century Fox’s crystal clear high definition presentation. Thierry Arbogast’s cinematography retains a naturally film-like appearance, entirely appropriate given that most of the movie was shot using 35mm film (see AF Cinema’s interview with Arbogast for more). Clarity is first-rate, all the better to show off the French shooting locations. For audio, Fox gives us a pristine DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that delivers when it counts. The explosive action that punctuates this mostly dialogue-driven film carries the expected weight. Gunfire and explosions ring out realistically.
I began by pointing out the indifferent reaction that greeted The Family upon its September 2013 theatrical release. Perhaps that explains the anemic special features included on the Blu-ray, which amounts to a ten-minute promotional featurette (simply titled “Making The Family”) and a montage of the F-word being used throughout the movie (“The Many Meanings of ”). No deleted scenes or even a gag reel. Definitely a disappointment for anyone who enjoyed the movie.
There’s no doubt that fans of Luc Besson or Robert De Niro will want to see The Family. Its uneven tone keeps it from being recommendable, but there’s at least one classic gag. I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say things take a surprising turn when Giovanni, whom the community believes is a legitimate author, agrees to speak at a film appreciation lecture. For at least this one sequence, Tommy Lee Jones’ squirmy discomfort and De Niro’s devil-may-care audacity synergize. More of this fun could’ve gone a long ways toward improving The Family.