Luc Besson is a director that has escaped mainstream success. As talented as he is, Besson’s most memorable directing choices have been Le Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element.
Those films are considered classics but all of them were released in the 90’s – a long time ago. But in 2013, Besson has made a fine return to form with this dark comedy starring Academy Award winner Robert DeNiro and Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer.
The Family is a fish(es) out of water story involving the Manzoni family. The Manzonis are in the witness protection program after patriarch Giovanni (DeNiro) rats out the Mob. As the film begins, Giovanni and his family, now known as the Blake family, are seen moving to Normandy, France. It’s apparent that constant relocation is the norm, and the Manzonis have trouble assimilating to any surrounding that isn’t New York City. Every member of the family has anger management issues – Maggie Blake (Pfeiffer) is a loving caring mother and wife who prefers extreme measures to rational ones; daughter, Belle (Glee’s Dianna Agron), is equal parts feminist, hopeless romantic and clinically insane; and son, Warren (John D’Leo), is very much his father’s son. Of course, lingering over the entire family is the threat of the Mob finding and killing them all.
The last film that tackled a Mob informant assimilating to life in federal witness protection was the Steve Martin classic, My Blue Heaven. While My Blue Heaven was very much a light comedy that relied on the chemistry between Martin and co-star Rick Moranis, The Family is a dark comedy that relies on knowledge of DeNiro and Pfeiffer’s past work in other gangster films. That works well, especially in DeNiro’s case. Besson did well to keep the tone straight instead of campy since DeNiro and Pfeiffer aren’t particularly strong when it comes to comedy. The chemistry between DeNiro and Pfeiffer is strong and their familiarity of the subject helps propel what essentially are one-note roles. Agron and D’Leo are surprisingly good and help to sell the idea that Manzonis are a tight-knit family. And to help sell the film’s irony, The Family tips its hat to gangster film genre which works swimmingly well.
Overall, The Family isn’t as memorable or as creative as Besson’s past directorial efforts. But thanks to deft casting, a simple story and exceptional acting this feature succeeds on certain levels. Hopefully this and Silver Linings Playbook are signs that DeNiro is back in top form and that Pfeiffer is primed to make a comeback. And maybe Besson won’t wait over a decade to direct an enjoyable film.
3.5 out of 5 stars