‘The Family’ reprises De Niro mob memories

In my time writing about film I have never seen a picture like The Family – a middling mob movie that seems perfectly content with swimming in mediocrity.


The Family
Rating: R
Running time: 111 min.
Stars: Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer

It’s as if Luc Besson — the French filmmaker responsible for helming Le Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional, and The Fifth Element — had accepted his latest project won’t be either watched or remembered by too many people.

He’s probably right.

The Family picks up with the Manzoni family leaving their home in New York to relocate to Normandy, France after joining the witness protection program.

Assuming the faux-identity of Fred Blake (Robert De Niro), the notorious gangster was the first of his ilk to rat on his friends (think Henry Hill from Goodfellas, which miraculously makes a meta-appearance towards the end of the film).

Each member of the “Blake” family begins to show their true colors upon arrival.

Warren (John D’Leo) is a 14-year-old more perceptive and knowledgable than most double his age. While Warren scopes out the social high school landscape (he instantaneously knows who’s who), his sister Belle (Dianna Agron), a gorgeous virginal teen, falls head over heels for her mathematics professor.

Raised by a pair of hard-edged hoods (the mother played by Michelle Pfeiffer blows up a food mart in Normandy when they don’t have peanut butter), both Belle and Warren didn’t have a particularly normal childhood.

Each member of the family is an ultra-violent, short-tempered criminal.

To pass the time Fred begins working on his memoir – a detailed recount of his life in the mafia. The Family thrives in these moments where Fred is introspective, waxing poetic and profane about the people he’s killed and the life he used to live.

But that’s all gone now.

In these scenes, though, it’s as if De Niro is reflecting on every role he’s had as a mobster, from Goodfellas to Casino to Analyze This. It isn’t revelatory, but these brief moments are delightful.

Unfortunately, The Family gets mired in silly, flimsy subplots – chiefly Fred making it a priority to get clean water from his faucet, and Belle’s clandestine, half-baked romance with her professor.

An inordinate amount of time is spent on setting up senseless, peculiar sub-stories that fail to develop into anything satisfying.

The Family is in no rush to reach its conclusion, probably because the film’s finale, which is essentially the Blake family coming face to face with their past (they made a lot of enemies when Fred informed on his friends), is puerile, mindless action.

Aside from the climax, The Family does an affable job turning morbidity into a breezy, comedic recycling of better mob movies.

If you do happen to purchase a ticket for this movie, there’s a good chance your memory of the film will dissipate moments after you leave the theater.