THE FAMILY Movie Review
Given what little we learn about “Fred Blake” (Robert De Niro) in The Family, he might as well be Jimmy Conway who never went to prison, and instead had a family who didn’t have all that much of a problem with his violent past, and were actually quite vicious themselves. Based on the novel Malavita by Tonino Benacquista, who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Léon: The Professional), the dark comedy tells the story of the Manzoni (“Blake”) family who are put into a witness protection program by FBI Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones). Until IMDb corrected me, I could have sworn his character’s name was Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard. It’s so very clear that Besson and Executive Producer Martin Scorsese are having plenty of fun with this project (it emits that same self-aware tone that made Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths a favorite of mine) that you’ll walk out thankful that Mr. Besson and Mr. Scorsese let you in on their game, and you’ll also want to go rent Goodfellas.
What we do know about Fred Blake is that his real name is Giovanni Manzoni and he used to work for the mafia. Now, he’s Martin Scorsese’s version of Jack Byrnes. He beats a plumber with a baseball bat when the plumber won’t stop his water from coming out brown. He’s still a mobster, he just doesn’t work for them anymore. His wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) probably raised a little hell back in her prime. I mean, err, yesterday. They have two children: Warren (John D’Leo) and Belle (a fierce Dianna Agron). Of course, when a beautiful teenage girl moves to France, she’s on the lookout for a nice, tall, handsome French guy who she can fall in love with that will have sex with her once and break up with her over the phone. So even though Belle finds exactly what I can only assume is every girl’s dream, she still gets all sad and depressed!
When the young daughter of the retired mafia boss goes through heartbreak at the hands of the slimy Frenchman, custom dictates that he should orchestrate the ex-boyfriend’s death so that he’ll be strangled on a bus in Paris while Mr. Blake is forty miles away sipping a martini by the pool. Suffice it to say, the movie doesn’t turn in that direction. What we get instead is considerably more humanizing for the sibling characters (an element certainly lacking up until then) and a chain of events no less brilliantly orchestrated by Luc Besson than a complex mafia hit. Which, by the way, Fred Blake is the target of. In flashbacks that look an awful lot like deleted scenes from The Godfather, we see the New York City life that Manzoni was forced out of—and the fear that he’s not far enough out of this life haunts him. Constant visits by the FBI Agent overseeing the relocation surely don’t soothe Fred’s anxiety. If not for the perpetually first-rate Tommy Lee Jones, his character would no doubt fall into the cookie-cutter supporting role category akin to a police captain trying to control a loose cannon cop.
The best scene in the film might be when Robert De Niro’s character is invited to talk to a film club on Vincente Minnelli‘s Some Came Running. And may I never watch another movie again if I’m lying–I said to myself in the screening room “but it would be really funny if they screened Goodfellas.” I won’t say whether or not I completely predicted Besson and Scorsese’s idea of humour, but I will say that the film club received the wrong film and so Robert De Niro sits there watching a popular American film, by famous director Martin Scorsese. It’s a moment where you can take time to realize exactly how outstanding De Niro was, and still is. In a film that evokes nostalgia by referencing a stockpile of classic cinema, De Niro still manages to bring something unique and excellent to his role. He’s one of very few actors that, every time I see him on screen, I have trouble imagining he has any other life than the character he’s currently playing.