When Robert De Niro is a gangster, Michelle Pfeiffer is a trophy wife and Tommy Lee Jones is an FBI agent you're right to nearly die of 'type-casting.' However, the prolific filmmaker Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element) has stepped back into the director's chair (after writing and producing films like Taken 2, Columbiana, Lockout), taken a dose of meta and peeked into life on the run from who you are.
The former Manzoni now 'Blake' family (De Niro, Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron and John D'Leo) are in the process of moving through the south of France with witness protection because despite their different names and new country, they're having a hard time denying who they are; as a result the hounds of their betrayed former Brooklyn crime family have caught their scent.
De Niro, like Clint Eastwood before him, is associated with the very fabric of the gangster genre. He's played the most iconic characters (Vito Coreleone), in the most iconic films (The Godfather Part II, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino) and occasionally he gets an opportunity to subvert or revisit particular characterisations to change your perspective. He does this wonderfully alongside Billy Crystal in Analyse This. For Fred a man flirting with his wife more than once is cause for whacking. When a plumber attempts to extort him, he may as well be begging to be tenderised with his tools. The highlights were watching the exchanges between De Niro and Lee Jones' Agent Stansfield argue over Fred's latest cover, a novelist, especially when he finds Fred's attempt at an autobiography.
Taking the gangsters to an isolated village in southern France gives writers Besson and Michael Caleo a chance to define them outside of their environment. You get to see how these mob hardened extreme characters manipulate their surroundings to their desires. Whether it's the local supermarket, school yard or glasshouse, each member of the family positions themselves at the top of the food chain. However, let's not wax too lyrical about what this film's trying to say; at its core it's a comedy. Young Warren (D'Leo) is extorting every single member of his school, Bello (Agron) is beating inferior suitors to a pulp and Pfeiffer's Maggie trades gossiping with the ladies to chatting with the surveillance team that observes their every move. The Family has the tonal imbalance between examining/subverting the genre archetypes, black comedy and straight-faced honouring the story.
The Family unashamedly serves as a shrine to Goodfellas, pairs sharp, black comedy and violence but like the characters is in a state of existential crisis.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Luc Besson Written by: Luc Besson and Michael Caleo (based on the book by Tonino Benacquista) Starring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, John D'Leo and Tommy Lee Jones
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.