The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, Road to Perdition and The Departed are the select films that represent the best of the gangster movie genre. The genre, which goes back to the earliest days of Hollywood, contains films that are rooted in the ideas of the American Dream. Additionally, the best gangster films address how personal relationships are formed and destroyed by those caught up in their often immoral lives. The Family, the newest film from director Luc Besson, finds itself dealing with this exact conflict and it attempts to flesh out the dynamics of a family that has known crime for much of their life.
In the film, Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer star as Fred and Maggie Blake, a married couple that moves to Normandy, France with their son (newcomer John D’Leo) and daughter (Glee’s Dianna Agron). The family has been relocated from Brooklyn because they are a part of a witness protection program as a result of DeNiro’s character recently exposing some of his own. While in Normandy, the family finds it difficult to adjust to normal life and finds it increasingly difficult to relate to those around them. All the while, the family’s past begins to catch up with them as a mob boss intent on tracking down Fred draws closer and closer to Normandy.
Before critiquing the film, it is important to note that the story line behind The Family is rather intriguing. For a film called The Family, though, Besson’s film cares little about the family unit and it doesn’t ever really discuss the important issues that pull at the foundation of the family. None of the characters seemed fully fleshed out, and because of this the characters never really seem to constitute a family. To be fair, there are a couple moments of genuine emotion in which the audience finds themselves rooting for the family. Still, each family member seems to live a life that is highly individual. Their individual actions never seem to affect one another as they should in a family that is supposedly as close as the one promised to viewers. As a result, The Family leaves little to relate to and it forces the audience to become more detached from what is going on in the film.
DeNiro is one of the greatest film actors of all time, yet one really wouldn’t be able to see that by looking at his work in The Family. While there are a couple humorous references to DeNiro’s past work in films like Goodfellas, DeNiro’s character is largely dull and boring. He has a character arc that begins to develop, but by the film’s end any progress made has been erased and the character seems to go back to where he began. Maybe that is the overall message of the film: that those in crime never really leave the life despite their best efforts. Still, DeNiro is a masterful actor who seems wasted here. The same can be said for Pfeiffer, whose has proved time and time again that she can deliver great performances. Her performance as Maggie Blake is fairly one note, though. Again, there is little development in the character and her chemistry with Fred seems minimal at times.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the best performance of the film comes from Dianna Agron. It is by no means a great character, as Belle Blake rarely has to answer for actions that in real life would carry serious consequences. Still, Agron succeeds in fleshing out her character’s development the most. She is given a love story, a subplot that helps to keep the second act of the film afloat.
The biggest problem with the film, though, is that it fails to create characters and situations that the audience can care about. By being marketed as both a drama and a comedy, the audience expects to see both. The script, however, seems underdeveloped and the moments that are meant for laughs just don’t work. Looking at the film from a broad prospective forces one to accept that the film works best as an action movie. It is when things are getting blown up and there are classic gangster shoot outs that The Family ultimately plays in the best interest of the audience. Perhaps ultimately the most frustrating thing about the film: it seems to be afraid to take any risks.
With The Family, it feels as if everyone involved has taken a step back creatively. As bored as the main characters in the film appear to be, so it seems likewise that each member of the cast is suffering from the same, simply there for the check and constantly trying to remember what it was like in the glory days. Instead of anything new, we are given recycled bits, like a greatest hits CD. While the nostalgia is fun in the moment, there is nothing new to take away and no new memories are created. At the end, The Family has survived, escaping from the past, but surely the family will not talk about their time in France, but instead of all the wonderful times they had in Brooklyn. Similarly, at the end of the day, we leave the theater having enjoyed the movie, but it won’t be what we talk about, choosing instead to remember the magnificence of The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, The Fugitive and so many other great movies from the performer’s pasts. At best, this all makes The Family a warmed up leftover that will give you just enough of a taste to be satisfied temporarily, but leave you longing for the real thing shortly after the meal is done.