Reviewed by: Spencer Schumacher
This movie is based on the book Badfellas by author Tonino Benacquista.
witness protection program
sin and the Bible
|Featuring:||Dianna Agron … Belle Blake
Robert De Niro … Fred Blake/Giovanni Manzoni
Michelle Pfeiffer … Maggie Blake
Tommy Lee Jones
John D’Leo … Warren Blake
Dominic Chianese … Don Mimino
Vincent Pastore … Fat willy
|Director:||Luc Besson—“Taken,” “Transporter”|
“Some call it organized crime. Others call it family.”
“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. To me being a gangster was better than being president of the United States.” —Henry Hill (as played by Ray Liotta in “Goodfellas”).
Director Luc Besson (“The 5th Element,” “The Professional”) is at the helm of “The Family,” a film that looks at the life of a mob family once they’ve retired from the business and been forced into witness protection.
After turning on his “mob” family, Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) and his family give up their New York, urban lifestyle (it’s suggested this isn’t the family’s first stop) and are transferred to the more rustic Normandy, France. They are instructed to do away with their mafia ways and “assimilate” into a life of hum-drum normalcy.
Once in Normandy, the Manzoni family becomes the average American Blake family. Giovanni transforms himself into a “writer” and takes on the name Fred Blake, he is using the new, quiet environment as a place to write his memoirs. The rest of the family is Fred’s wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their teenage children, Belle and Warren.
The problem is the mafia and all its trappings are in their blood, and they just can’t seem to break the bad habits of brokering deals, extortion, beating up bullies, blowing up super markets, and, oh, yeah, killing people because they inconvenienced you. You know, the mafia creed, once in, it’s hard to get out, and with the Manzoni family, the whole family is in.
Assisting with this small town relocation is CIA Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones). His job is to keep the Blakes in line, out of trouble and alive. Back in New York, the mob bosses are trying to track Giovanni’s family down for turning on them.
As hard as Stansfield and the CIA try to keep the Blake’s secret identities under wrap, it is the family itself that just can’t help resorting to their old ways, by continuing to bring attention to themselves and drawing their pursuers ever closer to discovering their whereabouts. The biggest problem, of course, is Fred/Giovanni himself, who grows upset when he finds that the tap water coming from the faucet is brown. Despite the pleas and advice of Stansfield to lay low, Giovanni feels the urge to go on an environmental crusade to find out why his water is brown. Of course, each person he runs into on this journey is more and more incompetent and disrespectful, which greatly irritates the man who is never one to simply “forgive and forget” a mere look of disrespect or an insolent remark. Giovanni’s temper is the seed that may ultimately lead to his family’s undoing.
The film starts with the assassination of a family that is mistaken for the Manzoni family. A finger is severed from the body of the man believed to be Giovanni. It is later found not to be his finger, and, therefore, the mob knows Giovanni and his family are still out there and need to be dealt with. At this point, it becomes a game to see how long the family can keep from falling back into their previous behavior and being discovered.
As far as objectionable content goes, the film is rated “R” for violence, profanity, and sexual situations. This film is very much an homage to many of the gangster films that have come before it, and since Howard Hawks’ directed the original “Scarface” (1932) violence and profanity have become part and parcel to the genre, and this film is no exception.
In terms of profanity, the f-word is dropped about two dozen times by every member of the family. At one point Belle and Warren (the Manzoni daughter and son) have an illuminating conversation about their father’s ability to give nuanced meanings to the single profane word in the mere manner in which he utters it. There are a couple other words used as well, but only a couple times.
There is no actual sex or nudity in the film, however, there are two scenes where sexual acts are implied. The first involves Fred and Maggie as they are “making out” on a couch while their kids are away. The second is a scene between daughter Elle and her collegiate tutor, where she comes on to him in an empty classroom, and he accepts the invitation. They start kissing, and the scene cuts away. Two discussions that bookend this scene fill in the gaps to indicate that the two have been sexually involved.
In terms of violence, once again, this film, which relies heavily on genre tropes, is pretty standard fare when it comes to violence. There are multiple killings involving gunfire, sprays of bullets and bodies falling to the ground. There is a scene where a finger is severed from a dead body and the severed finger ends up in a frozen Ziploc bag later, a body is dragged from a moving car, and another person is stabbed. Not that this is intended to be a caveat, but much of the violence happens away from the camera—guns fire, people fall down, bodies lay in the street. Those familiar with the plethora of films in this genre will know how violent these films can be, most of the violence in “The Family” is seen in the aftermath of the actual acts.
A more subtle offense might be the backdrop religion plays in the film, in this case the role of priests and the Roman Catholic faith. Though none of the family is devoutly religious, both Fred and Maggie do go into a Catholic church to pray and seek direction. At one point Maggie is persuaded to “confess” her sins. As Christians, we know we do not need an indirect intercessor for our prayers. The reaction of the priest upon hearing her confession (all of which is done off screen) may offend some viewers, particularly of the Catholic faith.
Anyone watching the trailer for this film or looking at the creative team involved, would no doubt be impressed by its credentials. The film has three Oscar® winning actors, an Oscar-winning executive producer and a respected, highly esteemed director. A cast member of “Glee” is the daughter of the family. All of the performances are fine, and the direction moves the story forward and makes the characters believable. The biggest flaw in this film is the story and its lack of consistency. At one point Giovanni recites the “ten rules” that he lives by that make him a sympathetic person. The problem is, we never see much evidence that he (or the members of his family) actually live by these rules.
Except for Westerns, the “gangster/mafia” genre is the most popular genre in Hollywood. Just about every notable director in Hollywood history has attempted to do one (Tarantino, Scorsese, Leone, De Palma, Coppola, etc.) to varying degrees of success.
It’s a bit of an unspoken rule of criticism that when one reviews a film the review should be based on the material that is presented on the screen during the 90-120 minutes the film plays, and to try one’s best to ignore previous genre examples. When it comes to gangster/mafia movies this becomes very challenging, considering the genre is replete with classic cinema, including what some refer to as the “3 G’s” (“Godfather” 1 and 2, “Goodfellas”). This becomes even more challenging when De Niro is the star, Scorsese is an executive producer, and the film itself contains a plot point involving one of the aforementioned genre staples.
In all, “The Family” is a mixed bag; it doesn’t seem to know what type of film it wants to be. It plays along with many of the conventions of the gangster genre and, with it revolving around a family, it seems to want to take a lighter tone. At times, it seems to be going for laughs, but does not quite hit the target.
Those that are familiar with the countless films in the genre and are looking for something in the same vein, will more than likely be disappointed with “The Family.” Those seeking out end of the summer family entertainment would best be advised to stay clear, as well, though this film centers around a family, it is far from family faire.
Violence: Heavy to extreme / Profanity: Extreme—“Jesus” (3), GD, “hell” (5), “damn,” f-words (35+), ass (8) / Sex/Nudity: Heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.