The Family

Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones
In UK Cinemas November 22nd, 2013

by Louise Mothersole

An American gangster family, after ratting on their mob boss, go into witness protection and are sent to stay in a quaint French village. As they try to adjust their outlandish mobster ways to the quiet simplicity of rural France, hilarity ensues; until they draw inevitable attention to themselves by those they wish to avoid. Action and more hilarity ensue.

Above is what I expected after seeing the trailer for The Family, directed by Luc Besson and starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones and a couple of teenagers – one of which we are meant to recognise from some teeny bop TV show if we are of a certain generation. With regards to the trailer, I was correct plot-wise. Tonally, I was way off the mark. I kept waiting for hilarity to ensue. It did not.

I felt as though Besson did not quite know what he wanted to achieve with The Family. He slid between the dramatic, the tongue-in-cheek and the overly sentimental. I know which moment of the film was which because the clunky musical changes told me so. I knew exactly how I was meant to feel at every passing moment. What I didn’t know was ‘why’.

The pace was also much slower than I expected, which in the first ten minutes greatly impressed me, before I grew bored. Besson slowly dribbled information about the family and their circumstance as though each new fact were a revelation – when in fact we, as the audience, already knew the entire plot, having seen the trailer.

There was a great deal of violence in the film. In the first two-thirds the violence is one of the four sources of mild humour. So when the blood-shed at the end is supposed to be shocking and frightening, it had by then lost its power. Perhaps Besson intended to demonstrate how the modern cinema goer – in this media-driven age – is desensitised to the violence inherent in the gangster film genre. Whatever the case, it made for quite a flat emotional experience for me as an audience member.

The other three sources of humour were the varied uses of the F-word, the self-referential inclusion of other films from the genre, and the two-dimensional comparisons between French villagers and loud city-dwelling Americans. This last running ‘joke’ enabled some nice product placement for McDonalds and Coca-Cola – good for them. I didn’t realise that all French villagers speak perfect English! They were certainly all far easier to comprehend than Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones whenever they had one of their mumbled slanging matches. It was probably for the best that a lot of the speech was lost in gangster drawl, as the bits of dialogue I heard were almost as clunky as the musical mood shifts.

The main catalyst to drive the plot forward was so tenuous and overly convenient that it needed its own five minute visual montage. Perhaps this too was supposed to be amusing?

The family were not likeable enough to ignite my sympathy (or much interest). De Niro’s character was a matchstick-figure version of Tony Soprano. Pfeiffer – beautiful though she is – played slightly too hard and cold a character. The teenage boy was forgettable. The teenage girl was a hormonal, overly dramatic, horny beast. I couldn’t tell if it was meant to be funny that she was so romantically obsessive (if so, this element should have been pushed much further)… either way, it didn’t endear her to me. It is 2013, could the teenage girl perhaps NOT be a sex-crazed, love-starved lunatic? That would be nice.

These four characters are so unlikeable that, by the end of the film and (SPOILER ALERT!) half the villagers are dead, I couldn’t dredge up any sense of concern for their well-being.

I have perhaps been too harsh. The film is fine. I feel as though Besson tried to fill a romp movie with a bit of substance and style and that it didn’t quite pay off. However it was a noble effort.

P.S. This review is probably longer than it needs to be and is not particularly well-written but serves its purpose. And it leaps about inconsistently, with a sudden stylistic shift at the end, reflecting the movie. You’re welcome.

P.P.S. There was an annoying scene where smoking weed was given equal weight (or bad-guy points) to beating someone to a pulp.

P.P.P.S. Oh, I think Robert De Niro may have saved the village from a big, bad processing plant or something? Don’t worry, it’s not actually important. Apparently.

Son of a bitch. Fin.

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