Director: Luc Besson.
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Michael Caleo.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, John D’Leo, Jimmy Palumbo, Domenick Lombardozzi, Stan Carp, Vincent Pastore, Jon Freda.
“It was a time when I had it all. People would ask me, “What was it like being untouchable?” The question they really should’ve asked was “What happens when it’s all over?””
During the 1990’s, Luc Besson was a director that I kept a very keen eye on. He delivered the dynamic French thriller “Nikita” before moving on to the kinetic and striking “Leon“. He followed this up with an outrageously unique Sci-Fi in “The Fifth Element” before tailing off with more obscure art-house and animation fair. “Angel-A” in 2005, was the last time I seen anything good from him and his latest in “The Family” would suggest that I’ll have to wait a little longer before he finds his feet again.
Giovanni Manzoni (Robert DeNiro) is a former mob man who enters the witness protection programme with his family and are relocated to Normandy, France to lay low. The problem for Manzoni, though, is that he finds it hard to keep a low profile and his old volatile habits bring just as much attention as they did back home.
A farcical French/American mob movie that has all the potential to be something quite exquisite; a (once) quality director in Luc Besson; three outstanding central performers in Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones and the great Martin Scorsese lending his hand to producing duties. With this abundance of talent involved, you’d be forgiven for expecting that nothing can really go wrong here but that isn’t entirely the case. For a start, the writing is very scratchy indeed. It’s farcical nature doesn’t gel with it’s sporadic violent outbursts and it can’t seem to make amends with it’s extreme tonal shifts.
In it’s favour, it has a snappy energy, buoyed by it’s solid trio of actors; DeNiro seems to be right up for it with his subtle comic timing in-check but it’s just a shame that he’s let down by Besson who doesn’t write any decent gags for him and those that are in place don’t work with the rest of the material. In fact, most of the sub-par gags are so forced that they’re delivered with some whimsical French accordion music playing overhead, reminding us that it’s supposed to funny – much in the same way that canned laughter is used. Pfeiffer is as watchable as ever and lends ample support with shades of her work in Jonathan Demme’s “Married to the Mob” and it’s great to finally see DeNiro and the great Tommy Lee Jones share the screen together. Unfortunately, their relationship is seriously underdeveloped and comes across as more of a missed opportunity than anything else. They do, however, share an amusing “Goodfellas” in-joke towards the end. It’s arguably misplaced but it’s still an enjoyable little moment between them.
As far as the actors go, they can’t be faulted but the material does very little for them. If only Besson had settled on a particular tone then this could have worked so much better. It would also have helped if he had a script in place that wasn’t so lazy or mediocre and didn’t overly rely on his strong cast to carry him. There are good scenes to be had but they just don’t come together as a complete whole with some plot strands woefully underdeveloped and, in some instances, completely forgotten about.
It’s a film that strangely finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place. It might have worked better had it been more in touch with its funny bone or it might have been wiser to omit the humour altogether. I can’t quite decide but, as it is, the final product is very much hit-and-miss with an emphasis on the latter.
Trivia: Although Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer had both appeared in Stardust (2007) and New Year’s Eve (2011), they had shared no scenes. When Pfeiffer received the script, she told her agent that if she had no scenes with DeNiro she wouldn’t even read it.