“The Family” offers a complex, engaging plot
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013 22:09
“The Family” is a cleverly deceptive flick. For the first 75 minutes I was presented with a routine dark comedy about a mob family in witness protection that succeeded in keeping me entertained, but little else. I was thinking to myself, “I like the characters, the acting and the writing, but what am I supposed to be taking away from all of this?” I was ready to declare “The Family” another average soft-toned thriller with a screenplay too rich and performances too strong for its own good. But at the dawn of the third act one scene occurs; a scene that brings profound clarity like a rushing waterfall over a still lake, sidestepping inconspicuously into the feature as if to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. Consider your questions answered.”
“The Family” stars Robert De Niro as street king turned FBI informant Giovanni Manzoni, and Michelle Pfeiffer as his wife. Both are no strangers to mafia roles. De Niro is well known as the lead in “Goodfellas” and Pfeiffer in “Married to the Mob.” The fact that they’re paired together here is no coincidence, and both give charismatic performances; swinging gracefully between easygoing and aggressive. Their teenage children are played by Dianna Agron and newcomer John D’Leo, both of whom come into their own here. There is also Tommy Lee Jones, essentially playing himself, as the FBI agent who has the arduous task of keeping them all in line, and works as an entertaining foil. There is also the villainous mob trying to track down and kill the family for their betrayal. Unfortunately, they’re given no development beyond cold stares and dressing all in black.
The story is set in France, where the Manzonis’ attempt to begin a new life; something they do fairly often because despite being out of the business, they can’t cut their mafia ties. The film does a good job of making the characters likable enough to root for, but not to condone their actions of violence and destruction. Although we laugh and feel satisfied as Pfeiffer blows up a grocery store after management was rude to her, we grimace at the same time. While comedy is present and mostly successful, it’s never the focus of any scene. Director Luc Besson rightly puts character development first, allowing humor to peek through the dirt when appropriate.
The screenplay is a large contributor to the film’s success. It runs at a steady pace, allowing each character to follow an individual arc, while not forgetting to show them as a cohesive unit. We see De Niro writing his memoirs and he is completely unsure how to feel about them. D’Leo utilizing his cunning and swindling ways to become the king of his school. Pfeiffer searches for religious redemption and Agron relentlessly fights for romance with her math tutor. All work on a relatively equal level, while slowly building up to a suspenseful third act shootout with the hitmen that have been hunting them. The plot sows its seeds subtly and pushes itself forward with small steps and few holes. While it does run about 15 minutes longer than needed, following the aforementioned third act revelation, which ties all the strings into one gargantuous knot, “The Family” as a whole, is just a little brilliant.