Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer make the screen’s perfect mafia husband and wife in French writer-director Luc Besson’s darkly funny look at life in the witness protection program “The Family.” Career mobster Giovanni Manzoni (De Niro) finds himself relocated to Normandy under the new moniker of Fred Blake. It’s not the first such move as Fred, his wife Maggie (Pfeiffer), daughter Belle (“Glee’s” Dianna Agron) and son Warren (John D’Leo) have difficulty adjusting to normal, noncriminal life and keeping off the radar of those Fred testified against. Normandy proves a tough adjustment as well and Fred’s deciding to write his memoirs adds to the woes of their FBI protector (Tommy Lee Jones).
Besson takes a familiar movie genre and gives it his own fresh style punctuated by an eclectic and unlikely soundtrack that somehow works. Lighthearted Italian style music in the opening sets you up for fun, but the movie is ultimately too serious and violent to be an outright comedy. The numerous and mostly justified beatings delivered by the Blake family are quite funny, but the climactic attack by vicious mob hit men is not. A lot of people die, many of them total innocents who just happen to step in the way. It’s a sudden and jarring shift in tone from what is otherwise a slow paced yet amusing story.
The casting is perfect. De Niro’s best moment comes when he is asked to critique an American film screening. The nostalgic look of love on his face as the unwittingly perfect film selection rolls is priceless. Agron presents a completely different person from her dumb blonde on “Glee” and young D’Leo gives us a low key, savvy and instantly likeable youngster. However, Pfeiffer’s performance is the standout. Her look, speech and demeanor are so dead-on and natural that you wonder how she’s never been paired with De Niro before. It’s a funny, sexy and tough-as-nails Oscar nomination worthy must-see performance.
“The Family” is not as funny as you might hope for and leaves a lot of elements undeveloped. Yet the cast and director overcome these shortcomings and provide a satisfying entertainment.