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The Best of 2013: 'The Family'

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The Family (2013)

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Returning to a familiar subgenre and attributing the lifelong works of director Martin Scorsese, The Family is director Luc Besson's “conclusion” to the gangster films of actor Robert De Niro. At least, this film acts like it may be one of De Niro's final performances as a mafioso with the seal of approval from Martin Scorsese himself acting as executive producer. There have been a few films featuring De Niro where we see him playing aging/retired mafia figureheads, but this film seems to pick up where Goodfellas, Casino, Heat, and the Analyze This films metaphorically left off, and like the last example-- this film is a very fun comedy.

De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, a major player within the New York families, that sells out his fellow partners to the CIA and leaves with his nuclear family to Europe under new identities in the Witness Protection Program. Flashbacks of his previous life that look like modernized scenes from Mean Streets and a vintage photograph on a fingerprint record that recalls the days of Taxi Driver are a few of many tributes to Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese's career. Rounding out this cast of hoodlums are Michelle Pfeffier playing Giovanni's wife, Maggie, Dianna Agron playing daughter Belle and John D'Leo playing Warren who literally looks like a slightly younger version of Lillo Brancato from A Bronx Tale. Pfeffier is as beautiful as ever playing an experienced, tough gal that exhibits slight glimpses of her memorable character in 1983's remake of Scarface, the exception being that this wife genuinely loves her husband and will do anything to ensure her family's safety. John D'Leo's Warren is a mafioso in training. He muscles and "brains" his way into taking control of Normandy's high school cliques and inner circles with amusing ease.

Dianna Argon plays Belle with an otherworldly, painterly quality. On one hand she is a loose cannon with a great tendency for violence if she feels threatened (big or meaningless threats included), and yet included in her gifts, is this remarkable poetic quality. The type of teenage girl that possesses a grandiose appreciation for true love and a perfect story to go along with it. This brings a very fun and beautiful contrast to the family's darker tendencies and difficulties to completely blend in, victims to their truer idiosyncrasies. We see the newly-christened Blake family try to play nice with the French locals as well as seeing the Manzoni family up to their usual lovingly, albeit dirty tricks. Attempting to hold back Giovanni Manzoni's dirty tricks, Tommy Lee Jones plays Robert Stansfield (same last name as Gary Oldman's famous character in Luc Besson's classic, Leon: The Professional; wondering if Besson just likes this last name), a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense type of soldier who effectively babysits Giovanni throughout the film. Jones' character is also a throwback to his most popular peace officers from Eyes of Laura Mars, The Fugitive films, the Men in Black films, and The Hunted. Stansfield seems to be intently fixated on keeping Giovanni safe despite their fisticuff-bruised past. The last remaining element that harkens back to an artist's earlier career is Besson's love of assassin films: Le Femme Nikita, the aforementioned Leon, and now coming in 2014, Lucy.

The film is bookended by the main antagonist's story-- an experienced assassin working for the felons Giovanni has put away. As Giovanni tries to understand Normandy's mundane drinking water issues and as Maggie tries to fit in with the town's church as well as the kids trying to understand their place in the world, the assassin and his team of fellow executioners move in to make the kill... The Family is a sweet, loving tribute to these gangster films and assassin flicks with an amusingly normal and adorable perspective on how a mafia family attempts to live their life or almost die by simply living.

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