Martin Scorsese teams up again with DeNiro for another mobster flick that’s about… mobster flicks?
Directed by Luc Besson (The Professional, Taken), The Family follows Fred Blake’s (A.K.A. Giovanni Manzoni’s) family after they’re relocated, again, as a part of the witness protection program. Tommy Lee Jones (who else?) plays the F.B.I. agent tasked with the unenviable job of protecting a family of stubborn Italians who are used to getting their way, not keeping a low-profile.
Luc Besson’s directing utilizes editing which borrows from Guy Ritchie’s signature style: montages with extreme close-ups punctuated with sound-effects that tell a story within the story. Unfortunately, the movie paces itself in such a way that these montages skip right over the important stuff. Like what Manzoni’s “unbelievable memoirs” actually contain. There’s a scene that has Manzoni and a very on-edge F.B.I. agent at a film festival, at which is played, of course, Goodfellas. The agent is pulling his hair out while Manzoni is about to spill his guts on life as a “family man”. The movie cuts away then cuts back as the audience in the film festival is in uproarious laughter. Meanwhile, the audience watching The Family is green with envy. Why weren’t we let in on the fun?
There were plenty of references to the past work of De Niro and Scorsese and even a nod to Besson’s The Professional. Manzoni beats a man within an inch of his life with a baseball bat (think The Untouchables), Manzoni’s voice-overs are also reminiscent of Goodfellas, and the F.B.I. agent’s last name is Stansfield, the same last name of the villain played by Gary Oldman in The Professional.
It’s as if Scorsese and De Niro only wanted to hang out, and needed a film set as a rendezvous. But the movie does start to find its stride the day after the “Blake” family moves into their new home in Normandy, France. While the kids are assimilating into their new school and the wife is out shopping, Manzoni, after hiding a body in the back yard, discovers a typewriter. He begins to write his memoirs, with more voice-overs, but this time I’m intrigued.
The movie opens with Manzoni saying that it’s crucial for a man to know his worth, it’s like knowing the day he’s going to die. As Manzoni begins typing, he defends his way of life, saying he has no regrets: not for murder or even snitching on his mobster pals. However, he does want the truth to be known about the story of how he got here, the story he knew nobody else would tell. He also confides in his daughter that he put her and her brother in a tough spot. Apparently, some of the inner demons rising to the surface through his memoirs are shining a light on the man’s true character. Manzoni goes on to say that writing is intense, it causes him to look in the mirror. Where does the story go from here?
Manzoni’s story essentially ends here. We know nothing more about his memoirs except that it unnerves agent Stansfield. We know nothing more about his own twisted version of morality: how he became a murderer, while at the same time capable of loving his family and even enforcing certain laws when he was leading his gang back in Brooklyn.
Instead, we’re introduced to more brutal violence, a teacher – student affair, and an attempted suicide by a teenager. The brutal violence doesn’t need much explanation, but the rest is just sort of stuck in, like a gag-cloth.
The acting was decent, the directional style was fun and the characters sometimes teeter on engaging, but this Scarface-meets-The Incredibles just doesn’t entertain.
On a side-note, the French bullies were hilarious if only because that title is hilarious in itself, and the teacher leading the disciplinary panel for Manzoni’s son sounded like she’d been smoking for 90 years, nothing like she sounded in the movie trailer. If you close your eyes, it’s hard to tell her apart from James Earl Jones.