If you still hold a bitter grudge against the French for not backing us up in Iraq, then The Family might be the movie for you. If you have vivid fantasies of enacting terrible violence upon everyone who throws a minor inconvenience your way, then The Family might be the movie for you. If you want to see a well-executed gangster romp starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as murderous Mafia beaus, then you'll have to hope that they make another movie with the same premise, and that it's better than this one.
De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, a New York gang boss who's been in witness protection with his family ever since he turned coat against all his friends. Him, his wife Maggie (Pfeiffer), his daughter Belle (Dianna Agron), and his son Warren (John D'Leo) have found it difficult to maintain a low profile. Their latest relocation takes them to a small town in Normandy, France. Even though everything about their new surroundings seems perfectly lovely, none of them are enthused about it, because they are terrible Americans. And most of the townspeople don't treat them with much respect either. Manzoni's FBI handler Tom (Tommy Lee Jones) finds his hands full trying to get them to behave. And all the while, minions of Giovanni's now-incarcerated ex-associates are on his trail, looking to settle scores.
The film is simultaneously setting up a world where all the characters are stereotypes and trying to make the members of the Manzoni family somewhat sympathetic. These two sides are constantly at odds. It's hard to really care about Maggie as a person after she's blown up a supermarket just because a cashier was rude to her. When Giovanni, writing out his memoirs, tries to defend himself as a "nice guy" it's half intentionally ironic humor (he talks of always being fair over a flashback of him having beaten a troublesome photographer to a pulp) and half seemingly sincere (he made sure there were no robberies in his neighborhood, so... hooray for the Mafia?). If everything is meant to be satire, it's not really clear what it's satirizing. The French are snooty, the Americans are rude. Those dual premises, along with over-the-top violence, are what pass for jokes.
I do like that, between this and Silver Linings Playbook, De Niro is trying again. He's failing in this case, but he is trying. He has some nice chemistry with Pfeiffer and Jones, and manages to sometimes make his playing around with his gangster image fun. But Giovanni isn't really working on any kind of arc here. In fact, there's no arc at all to this movie.
The Family feels an awful lot like a television pilot. It sets up characters but does nothing to develop them. By the end, they are in pretty much the exact same position they were in at the beginning, both as people and in terms of their situation. Warren takes over his school's black market overnight in one sequence, then is found out in a later scene, and decides to go on the run in the next. Belle falls in love with a dreamy math tutor, has sex with him, is rejected by him, and then decides to kill herself over him (even though she's been established as a take-no-shit tough girl), all in essentially four scenes. It's half-formed storytelling, where only the beats of each character are there, without any of the meat needed for them to make sense to us.
A bloodbath with no bite and a comedy with few laughs, The Family really needed to commit to a tone in order to work. It doesn't, and so it's a lackluster, plodding piece of work. Director Luc Besson has not made many movies that I've liked, but he at least used to have an energy that left his clear stamp on his work. That's gone now.