Movies: "The Family" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "The Family"
Movies: "The Family"

 

French filmmaker Luc Besson has made some terrific action movies, including “La Femme Nikita,””Leon: The Professional” and “Ronin.”  

 

While it does have its moments, “The Family” is not one of his best.

 

The problem is that Besson has dusted off almost all the old Hollywood Mafia tropes and transported them into the present -- and off to France.  As if to reinforce that backward look, he’s cast Mafia movie veteran Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer (who cut her teeth in such gangster classics as “Married to the Mob” and, of course, “Scarface”).  In one mind-blowing moment here, we see De Niro’s character asked to comment on a showing of “Goodfellas” before a French movie audience.  (And guess who one of the executive producers of “The Family” might be.  Why it’s Martin Scorsese!  Small world, that movie Mafia can be, particularly when we spot Vincent Pastore, aka Big Pussy from “The Sopranos,” in a supporting role.

 

So De Niro plays the newly-named Fred Blake, whose witness protection program brings him, his wife Maggie (Pfeiffer) and their teenaged kids Belle and Warren (Dianna Agron, Quinn in “Glee,” and John D’Leo, “The Wrestler”) over to Normandy, while back in the States, the mob is frantically searching for them.  Watching over the family is veteran FBI Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and a two man team (Jimmy Palumbo and Domenick Lombardozzi, who played Herc in “The Wire”).

 

True to form, the Blake family doesn’t hesitate to revert to violence in their encounters with those cheese-eating French.  Maggie blows up a supermarket because the manager was snotty to her;  Belle beats the snot out of a classmate who clumsily tries to seduce her;  and Warren wastes no time setting up a protection racket at the local school.  Fred also has some anger management issues when it comes to the local plumber, but spends most of his time banging out his mob memoirs on an old typewriter.

 

And when the bad guys come to call, things get really nasty.  So what at first seems like a comedy drama inevitably turns into a bloody shoot ‘em up.

 

Besson certainly knows how to stage the action scenes, and his longtime cinematographer Thierry Arbogast delivers some expert camera work.  The music, by Evgueni and Sacha Galperine, calls on such modern performers as Cat Power, Gorrilaz and LCD Soundsystem to keep things topical.  But with its constant throwbacks to all those old mobster cliches, that’s kind of difficult in this movie.

 

The performances are solid;  how could they not be with this cast?  De Niro, playing his umpteenth mafiosa, gives it his best effort.  Pfeiffer is also appealing.  Unfortunately, Tommy Lee Jones has little to do here except look even craggier than usual.

 

“The Family” is rated R for language, violence and a teenage sex scene.  I give it a B-Minus.