“The Family” Movie Reviews

"The Family" Movie Reviews

As the new Michelle Pfeiffer movie “The Family” showing today in the U.S, September 13, tons of reviews are coming out on the internet as well, we will sure to make a REVIEW SUMMARY later on, but from the latest ones I have seen so far, there’s very positive comments about the performance of our mob queen – Michelle Pfeiffer! Fox News called her excellent and steals the picture and Variety even not liking the movie that much, also called her a “standout”!

Robert De Niro plays a great mobster, but Michele Pfeiffer steals ‘The Family’

Robert De Niro as a mobster is the safest role the star can play at this juncture of his career after a streak of several below average films (“Silver Linings Playbook” excluded). With the popular “Analyze This,” De Niro took a bawdy and comedic twist on his famed mob persona, but with Luc Besson’s dark and entertaining “The Family,” the Oscar-winner keeps most, but not all, of the laughs at bay and maintains his grittier edge.  

When mobster Giovanni Manzoni snitches on his own mob family, he, his wife and his children are placed into the witness protection program and sent to the tranquil and remote Normandy, France to begin their new life. Under the surveillance of FBI agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), the Manzonis – now the Blakes – must try to fit in with the local French culture, which for a group of reckless, violent mobsters is easier said than done.

Besson and Michael Caleo’s screenplay, based on the novel by the excellent Tonino Benacquista, is nicely crafted, if a little maudlin at times. Each of the four Blake family members gets equal play, allowing the audience to connect with each one’s social and emotional challenges. All four members of the Blakes unload their heavy consciences in their own way, although the women out-perform the men; Michelle Pfeiffer is excellent with her thick Brooklyn accent and gaudy late 70s fashion and hair. Like her husband and children, she can be offensively violent one moment then a whimsical homebody the next. But to alleviate her grief, she tries to reconnect with her faith in a local Normandy church. Diana Agron as Belle is a feisty beauty who seeks true love from her math teacher to help her move away from her crazy family. Then there’s John D’Leo as Warren, who takes the “family business” to his new high school, working the student body to his benefit.

Giovanni’s cover is to be a writer, and though he has no skill or knowledge of writing, the ex-mobster stumbles into amateurishly writing his memoirs. Besson attempts to show this vicious criminal finding his conscience through writing, which should help correct his course, but the script never gets to that. Giovanni has no real definable arc; he’s still the same brute at the end as he was in the start.

As each of the four Blakes blunder their way through their new identities, word gets back to mob kingpin Don Mimino (Dominic Chianese) as to Giovanni’s whereabouts, prompting him to dispatch his assassins. It is then up to Tommy Lee Jones and his two assistants to help protect the Blakes.

The film plays better when it focuses on the more intimate moments of the family dealing with their inner demons and attempting to connect with anything that resembles sanity. But “The Family” starts to buckle at the seams when it tries to go too big or too over-the-top. For instance, the manner in which mob kingpin Don Mimino discovers Giovanni’s location is so preposterous it breaks the even flow of the film and single-handedly wrecks a good portion of it.

Besson focuses more on the action and suspense than the comedy, which keeps the film from having an identity crisis. The overall premise is comedic, but this is a dark, often violent film that occasionally dips into humor. The comedy generally lies in the expectation of Giovanni’s supposed violent reaction to any given situation that doesn’t go his way. Not every moment of violence is shown, most are alluded to, which is smart on Besson’s part and makes the film much stronger.

With a sensational cast, one would expect the acting to be out of this world, but apart from Pfeiffer and the kids, De Niro and Jones seem exhausted and rather bored. These roles are certainly not difficult material for them and while De Niro gives the right amount of energy to keep one’s attention for two hours, this just isn’t one of his most exciting performances.

However, De Niro and Pfeiffer’s shared screen time is enticing, to say the least. They are a perfect fit, especially as a mob family. Whether they are bickering over a murder or plumbing, they both deliver laughs. But its Pfeiffer’s commanding presence as the diva mob wife that steals the picture.

An interesting cultural twist in “The Family” curtails the usual European stereotypes. Typically in films with fish-out-of-water Americans in a foreign country, the comedy focuses on the stereotypes of the foreigners. However, since this is written and directed by French Luc Besson, the comedic stereotypes all fall on the Americans, especially regarding food, with jokes about America’s craving for peanut butter, love of hamburgers, loudly sipping soda through straws and the notion of an overly obese population. The movie also specifically targets pop culture’s view of the mafia, even lampooning and self-referencing De Niro and executive producer Martin Scorsese’s mob classic “Goodfellas.”

“The Family” may not be top tier De Niro, but it is excellent Pfeiffer and a welcome return for director Luc Besson to the crime genre that made his name.

MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 1 hour and 52 minutes.

 

Curiously airless, weightless and tonally uncertain, Luc Besson’s mafia comedy falls flat.

By Andrew Barker | Variety

When properly applied, bad taste can have a wonderfully liberating, palliative effect, and contemporary French cinema has produced few more discerning mainstream vulgarians than Luc Besson. But without any sense of joy in transgression, or real humor behind all the bloody irony, his mafia comedy “The Family” falls flat. Curiously airless, weightless and tonally uncertain, the pic mixes mass murder, dismemberment and rape threats with sappy sentimentality, fish-out-of-water gags and groan-worthy meta-humor, yet very little of it manages to leave any impression. Worth seeing only to catch cast standout Michelle Pfeiffer recapture hints of the knives-out nastiness of her “Scarface” and “Married to the Mob” roles, this Relativity release nonetheless ought to do decent business.

Michelle Pfeiffer in "The Family"It isn’t that “The Family” doesn’t have any good ideas. In fact, it might have too many. Picking up with a mafia family as they arrive at a creaky house in Normandy — the latest of many witness-relocation destinations for Brooklyn wiseguy-turned-snitch Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) — Besson would seem to have a full palette with which to paint. Watching Giovanni employ leg-breaking tactics to negotiate buck-passing French bureaucracy theoretically ought to resonate with disgruntled expats and Francophobes. (And in surer hands, De Niro’s role as a domesticated heavy still very much in touch with his sociopathic tendencies could have been a sly upending of his “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents” parts.) Then there’s his 17-year-old daughter, Belle (Dianna Agron), whose sudden shifts from moony high-school romanticism to brutal violence would seem to have plenty of potential. And the Cosa Nostra strategies 14-year-old Warren (John D’Leo) uses to negotiate lycee politics could have perhaps made for a whole film on their own.

None of these are the most original of conceits (and the script never bothers to complicate or question any of its dunderheaded-Americans/effete-Frenchmen stereotypes), though they ought to at least be expected to provide decent distraction from the central plotline pitting Giovanni against a tireless would-be assassin (Jimmy Palumbo). But the film never seems aware it can follow any of these paths to interesting destinations, instead simply tossing a handful of one-joke sketches into a narrative Cuisinart and serving the resulting puree raw.

Always an efficient orchestrator of balls-out ultraviolence, Besson has never quite grasped the rhythms of English-language comedy, and his earlier English pictures, like “The Fifth Element,” largely succeeded through megalomaniacal moxie alone. “The Family” showcases a slower, quieter strain of Besson’s signature style, yet it’s scarcely any smarter, and even its better comedic ideas wind up diluted by overly orchestrated setups or fumbled payoffs.

There’s no guilty glee in the sight of mob mother Maggie (Pfeiffer) blowing up a grocery store whose proprietor dares scoff at her peanut-butter fixation, and the explanation for an early scene in which the supposedly undercover family throws a barbecue for the entire town seems to have been left on the cutting-room floor. (The less said about the Martin Scorsese reference, the better.) For a film set in Normandy from a French writer-director (Besson and Michael Caleo adapted the script from Tonino Benacquista’s novel), it never even feels particularly French: Having every character onscreen speak perfect English is obviously a commercial necessity, yet it’s scarcely acknowledged that this is not the town’s native language.

These minor quibbles aside, “The Family” is technically well made, and Besson is still capable of staging horrifying murders and torture scenes in a uniquely casual, matter-of-fact way. A characteristically sharp Pfeiffer provides most of the pic’s genuine laughs and nearest attempts at actual empathy, and it must be said that De Niro is at least never caught sleepwalking. Tommy Lee Jones, however, seems entirely disengaged in his scenes as Giovanni’s FBI handler.

Reviewed at the Landmark, Los Angeles, Sept. 11, 2013. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 111 MIN.

 

Singing ‘Soprano’ in Normandy | In ‘The Family,’ De Niro and Pfeiffer Head a Mob Family

By Stephen Holden | September 12, 2013 | THE NEW YORK TIMES

Mobsters can’t help themselves. It’s in their nature to solve problems the family way — with baseball bats, explosives and anything at hand that leaves an opponent dead or writhing in agony. Sadistic violence is a reflexive response to having grown up in households where fathers regularly beat their sons senseless for no reason.

Michelle Pfeiffer in "The Family"

So says Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro), a mobster in hiding, when explaining his pathological behavior inLuc Besson’s dark action comedy “The Family.” Giovanni, who ratted out his fellow mobsters to the feds and is now in the witness protection program, has a new identity. Under the name Fred Blake, he has been moved with his family to a village in Normandy. There they face many frustrations, starting with the ancient plumbing.

When Giovanni’s wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), shops and is snidely informed, “We don’t stock stuff like that,” she blithely burns down the supermarket. Maggie is disgusted by the French preference for butter and cream over olive oil. And in the movie’s funniest speech, she rails about the awful things these dairy products do to your insides.

Ms. Pfeiffer is no stranger to mob wives, having played them wonderfully in “Married to the Mob” and “Scarface.”Because her portrayal of Maggie has only the slightest tinge of parody, her character feels authentic. When Ms. Pfeiffer tears up, which she does more than once, you weep with her.

The role of Giovanni could have been a walk-through for Mr. De Niro, whose character, given his new identity, calls himself a writer and begins typing his memoirs. But Mr. De Niro gives a surprisingly nuanced performance of a monster offering a long list of bogus reasons to excuse his evil. The character is charming in a rough-hewed way, but lethal. He loves inflicting pain and misery.

With their mobster lineage, the Manzoni children introduce a whole new set of values to the school in which they enroll. Sexy, tough and 17, Belle (Dianna Agron of “Glee”) has a way with a tennis racket when a boy makes an unwelcome pass. Fixing her predatory gaze on a studious young math whiz she covets, she pins him against a locked door.

Her 14-year-old brother, Warren (John D’Leo), immediately sets about organizing shady larcenous operations with students who are more than eager to join his syndicate. The movie unabashedly glorifies these crime family children and portrays their Gallic counterparts as lily-livered wusses.

The style of the movie — directed by Mr. Besson from a screenplay he wrote with Michael Caleo and adapted from Tonino Benacquista’s novel, “Malavita” — might be described as screwball noir. If there aren’t a lot of belly laughs, “The Family” stirs up an appalled amusement at its gleeful amorality. Some of the heartiest laughs come from the grisly scenes of Giovanni triumphantly venting his rage when he doesn’t get instant gratification or feels disrespected.

The bad vibes that greet the Manzonis upon their arrival threaten to incite a massacre when they invite their neighbors to a get-acquainted barbecue, and the guests condescendingly criticize Giovanni’s grilling techniques. Giovanni, his face frozen in a facetious grin, endures their scorn while a fantasy sequence shows what he would really like to do to them. At the screening I attended, the more cruelty the Manzonis unleashed, the louder the audience cheered.

That response is similar to the enthusiasm that greets Giovanni when he gets carried away with his own stories in a discussion after a local film society screening of “Goodfellas.” At his side, observing him with increasing alarm, is his F.B.I. handler (Tommy Lee Jones, in a thankless role that he manages to imbue with some gravity).

When his New York enemies catch wind of Giovanni’s whereabouts and descend on the Normandy coast, the humor recedes, guns are drawn, and “The Family” transforms into a firefight in which the Manzonis heroically stand up to their would-be executioners.

The movie has holes galore. It has abrupt tonal shifts, an incoherent back story and abandoned subplots. It doesn’t even try for basic credibility. But buoyed by hot performances, it sustains a zapping electrical energy.

“The Family” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has extreme, gory violence, strong language and sexual situations.