When Luc Besson, the man who brought us Nikita and The Fifth Element, directs an action comedy starring Robert DeNiro as the patriarch of a mob family forced into hiding in the south of France, you’d be forgiven for expecting the out-and-out movie of the year. You’d be forgiven, but you’d also be deeply disappointed.
Devoid of any of Besson’s trademark flare, The Family might just be the most tonally bizarre movie since Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers earlier this year. A painfully middle-of-the-road affair, it veers from tongue-in-cheek to dark-as-hell at a moment’s notice with no consideration of whether or not it fits the film’s overriding storyline, with one particular sequence smack in the middle that takes the film straight into farcical territory at the expense of any kind of believability.
DeNiro may be returning to his mobster roots for the first time in a decade (even a Goodfellas reference is shoehorned in for good measure), but he seems more than a little bored by it – continuing the career slump he’s been on since the mid-nineties. It’s a sad statement of DeNiro’s recent body of work (and more than a little ironic) that his role feels like it was tailored for the late James Gandolfini; and that, while he’s happy to attempt to run with that, it’s simply beneath DeNiro to go all the way with it. Pfeiffer meanwhile seizes every chance to steal a scene, and Jones is a grumpy joy as ever, yet bizarrely it’s the FBI duo played by Jimmy Palumbo and Domenick Lombardozzi who somehow manage to be the film’s highlight.
By far and away the biggest failure of note in The Family comes in the form of the daughter, played by Glee’s Dianna Agron. At first a refreshing take on the subordinate mob-daughter archetype, the role is enjoyably packed with gusto and bolstered by a surprisingly effective turn by the usually rather bland Agron. In the film’s third act however, the character simply takes a turn into more trite terrain, ultimately amounting to nothing more than a moping teenage girl who can’t take rejection. It’s a sad fate for what begins as a great (and rather unexpected) young female lead, and exemplifies the problems inherent to the film – it simply does not know what it wants to be. And when your director is Luc Besson and your lead is Robert DeNiro, that simply isn’t good enough.
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Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones