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The Family - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Family
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

It's nice to see Robert DeNiro in movies that are actually good again, although it's possible last year's Silver Linings Playbook offered a bit of false hope. That movie was good but overrated; that said, like The Family now, it's better than his other late-career movies have been. But maybe, just maybe, DeNiro will escape the trap that seems to have befallen Al Pacino, another highly celebrated actor who had brilliant performances decades ago but lately seems more interested in cashing checks.

I suppose I should be fair. Great performances or not, an actor wants to work. And DeNiro isn't exactly phoning it in here. He's doing at least a little better than that. That's something.

And as gangster movies go, The Family also has a novel concept going for it: Set almost entirely in Normandy, France, the "Blake" (a pseudonym) family are under witness protection, after Giovanni, now Fred (DeNiro), snitched on a bunch of his criminal friends back in Brooklyn. He has a wife, Maggie (Michele Pfeiffer); a daughter, Belle (Glee's Dianna Agron); and a son, Warren (John D'Leo). The sequences of this family "settling in" to their new town are amusing: Fred settles in to start writing his memoirs, while, not knowing anything else, the others basically behave like thugs. Maggie blows up a grocery store after its staff treats her with contempt because she's an American. Warren organizes a systematic revenge against school bullies. Belle beats the shit out of a kid trying to put the moves on her with a tennis racket.

Eventually, in by far the film's most unrealistic moment, the man most bent on finding and killing the Blake family, a guy now in prison, figures out where they are. He sends a large group of henchmen to Normandy to find and kill them, and thus The Family shifts from fish-out-of-water to gangster-battle mode.

I suppose we're meant to feel for the Blakes, and how much they love and care for each other, as they work as a team to defend themselves -- particularly the teenage kids. This is all just plain stupid, of course (and it's odd to see teenage siblings get along so seamlessly), but it's still fun.

That said, the clear attitude on the part of director Luc Besson that all of the French locals are expendable kind of got to me. A great many perfectly innocent people get killed in this movie, and evidently we're supposed to just not care. We are meant to care about the Blakes, even though Fred/Giovanni is plainly a cold blooded murderer -- he buries a bloody body at the very beginning of the film. If anything, The Family demonstrates how stale the "anti-hero" conceit has gotten. Besson never gives us solid reasons to be on Giovanni's side -- even the passages of his memoirs we are privy to are rather oblique.

So what makes the movie any good, then? Not a whole lot, admittedly, but in a movie like this, casting counts for a lot. All of the actors here have chemistry and charisma, even Tommy Lee Jones as the frustrated federal agent who is getting sick of having to relocate this family. If you just sit back and watch this movie without being too critical, it's simply a fun couple of hours -- not hilarious but consistently amusing, and never boring. This movie could have been a lot better, true, but you could also do a hell of a lot worse. In the absence of any other options, well, at least it's not a total waste of time.

Robert DeNiro is head of THE FAMILY.

Overall: B-
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