Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Family - A Fine, Fast, and Funny Film

Luc Besson's “The Family” is a funny look at the lives of a (dys) functional mob family in hiding in Northern France.  Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element," "Taken," "To Paris With Love") has focused his black comedy about organized crime directly on the subject of family.  Most of us, who watch films about the mob, the mafia, or whatever you want to call it, know that it is centered around the concepts of family.  In fact, the first scene Besson shows us is a family eating dinner at their table.  The family consists of an older father, a wife, a daughter, and a son.  There is a knock on the door and the father gets up to see whom it is.  The door explodes and a guy named Rocco (Jon Freda) enters and kills the family.  So, now we know what kind of people we are dealing with.  “The Family” is an hour and fifty minutes long, and rated R for violence and language.

Robert De Niro ("Godfather II," "Goodfellas") and Michelle Pfieffer ("Scarface," "Married to the Mob") star as husband and wife – mother and father of a family in the Witness Protection Program.  They have two children.  Their daughter is 17 and their son is 14 years-old.  Tommy Lee Jones ("The Fugitive," "No Country For Old Men") plays the FBI officer in charge of their safety.

Fred Blake (De Niro), from New York and also known as Giovanni Manzoni,  a former Capo in the Luchese family. You see, six years ago Giovanni snitched on the Luchese family.  He turned into a rat.  The FBI is constantly relocating his family to a sleepy little town in Normandy France.  The family has a hard time adjusting to the role of "normal" people.  In their first day in town, Maggie (Pfieffer) blows up the local grocery store.  Their son, Warren (John De Leo) gets his ass kicked, and daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) beats the crap of some guys at school who came off a bit too fresh for the American.  Fred on the other hand, decides he wants to write his memoirs. 

For some reason, we as an audience, find this very funny. Besson, a native of France, plays up the French character in this film as friendly, but with that underlying condescending attitude that American's just hate. 

Most people think of De Niro as a smart guy.  But, the impression one might get of Fred Blake or Giovanni Manzoni is not one who is capable of writing eloquent prose.  Considering that Fred's favorite word is F**K, he can convey whole sentences, nay paragraphs in just the way he says that word, why write?  It gets out to the neighbors in the town that the American is an author and is now an instant celebrity.  Not a good idea if you have the mob chasing you. Giovanni/Fred is so much a celebrity, that he is invited to speak at the town’s small film society.  The film for discussion is "Some Came Running" from 1958 starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.  Instead, they were sent the wrong movie.  The movie that cameGoodfellas,” makes for plenty of laughs.
"Like Al Capone said, asking polite with a gun in your hand is better than asking polite with nothing." Giovanni Manzoni
Michelle Pfieffer plays her character Maggie, both convincingly but with a certain sense of gusto.  The fifty-five year-old actress is staill as attractive as ever and an equal partner to De Niro's Giovanni. Pfieffer is whimsicale as she does her own fair share of damage to the stuck-up members of the small town.  Tommy Lee Jones, is well, Tommy Lee Jones.  His Agent Stansfield character is one that Jones has played before whether it was in "The Fugitive," U.S. Marshals," or in the "Men In Black" films.

What impressed me about “The Family” was the sense of respect that the two siblings have for each other.  Although I think that this ESS the least plausible part of the script, I found it one of the most likable.  Actor John D'Leo plays 14 year-old Warren as a mature kid, whose goal is, if not running the petty crime in his new school, he will settle for a cut while getting back at the bullies that beat him up the first day.  While his sister Belle (Agron) turns her interests toward a young, handsome Math substitute.  In spite of the trouble these two characters are having in the film, I liked the way their characters came to the aid of their family in a time of crisis.

In the Western musical scale, there is a finite collection of notes.  A musician must find a combination of notes.  Once those notes are found, the musician tends to play those notes repeatedly in different ways to come up with different melodic sounds.  Luc Besson has found a certain number of notes that certain people seem to respond to.  Have others used the notes before?  Yes, of course they have.  As I said, there are a finite number of notes that make music. 

In "The Family," Besson plays the mobster minor scale like the producer of a studio record, with masters of their instruments, or in this case, actors who are masters of their craft.  The composition requires the use of certain harmonies like actors who fit the characters and the parts they are playing.  Does this work tend to fall into stereotypes?  Of course it does, it is what we expect from a movie about the mob.  Luc Besson did the right thing when casting De Niro as a mobster; he is the expert at that role.  He can play the serious murderous gangster as he did in "Goodfellas," or he can play him comedic as he did in "Analyse This" and “Analyse That" with Billy Crystal’s many years ago. 

Luc Besson's "The Family" is not to be taken seriously. Made for a mere $30 million, "The Family," includes top-notch actors, genuine funny moments, and plenty of action interspersed with inside mob film jokes, and a third act that leaves you on the edge of your seat. Not one of the great mob films of all times, "The Family" is a solid, above average, entertaining film that is worth watching, if not in the theaters, then at home when it comes out on DVD and Blu-ray.

Movie Data

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime
Year:  2013
Staring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, John D'Leo
Director: Luc Besson
Producer(s): Luc Besson, Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla, Martin Scorsese 
Writer: Luc Besson, Michael Caleo
Rating: R
Running Time: 111 minutes
Release Date:  9/13/2013

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