Directed by: Luc Besson
As film buffs we are used to seeing great character actors like De Niro shine in dramatic, gritty roles as mobsters, thugs, and tough guys. So it is always something of an off-speed pitch when he shows up in a mobster/tough guy role, but in a (dark) comedy. If you saw the trailers for he Family, and are thinking that this is a laugh-a-minute comedy, think again. It is really a left-handed send-up of many of De Niro’s more gritty mobster roles. Only this time, while he and his on-screen family are playing the over-the-top űber-violence for laughs, they are all doing it straight.
Here Di Niro is (Fred Blake; nee Giovanni Manzoni) a former mafia boss who ratted out his cronies and (along with his family) went into witness protection and were relocated to a sleepy town in the south of France, although that apparently didn’t go so well (it involves bad lobsters, perceived disrespect, and a missing and presumed dead person…don’t ask) and “Fred’s” FBI handler Robert Stansfield (Jones) had to relocate them to Normandy. Well, despite the best efforts of Agent Stansfield to keep Fred and his family in line, Fred, his wife Maggie (Pfeiffer) and their children Belle (Agron) and Warren (D'Leo) just can't help but revert to old habits when confronted by everyday life situations and blow their cover by handling their problems in the “family” way. Needless to say, this enables their former mafia pals to track them down.
As can be expected, not only do the unsanctioned antics cause a considerable amount of chaos as old scores are settled in the most unlikeliest of settings, and in the most hilariously contorted manner. Yeah, this isn’t so much your daddy’s Mafia flick. It is brutal, harsh, and seriously violent. It is also very, very funny (assuming that you can overlook the excessive and random violence).
Jones give us his usual, grumpy-self role, as he feels put upon to babysit these rotten thugs, while De Niro mugs for the camera as he spends his time being malevolent for laughs. Pfeiffer, for her part, plays her role with aplomb, playing the diligently faithful, but put-upon Mafia wife. Still, the best, meatiest roles go to Agron and D'Leo (Belle and Warren), who steal every scene in which they appear. Watching these two Mafia kids enter a new school and then come to rule it in short order is the engine that drives this delightfully off-kilter film. So go, see it but be prepared to not only laugh, but be startled by the level of casual violence it contains.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.