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Ellen Sterling sterling

Movies: The Family

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Family is the new movie starring Robert DeNiro as a mobster in witness protection, Michelle Pfeiffer, Diana Agron and John D’Leo as his family and Tommy Lee Jones as his FBI agent contact, along with several familiar faces from past mob movies and TV shows. Is it fine cinema? No. But, if the viewer is willing suspend close scrutiny, it’s a lot of fun.

A loving couple with some strange ways of doing things, Fred and Maggie Blake (Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro) have to live a low-key life. They find it impossible to do.
Phtoto: Relativity Media

The Family in question is headed Giovanni Manzoni (DeNiro). Of course, he’s also a member of the same family as the Corleones. His father was a driver for the Lucchese family in New York and Gio decided to go into the family business.

That endeavor has brought him to the French countryside today. There, as a guest of the U.S. federal government in the witness protection program, he settles in with his wife (Pfeiffer) and kids (Agron and D’Leo). He is watched over by a group of FBI agents headed by Robert Stansfield (Jones). Let loose on their new community, the kids take over the school (where, most surprisingly) everyone speaks perfect colloquial English) and his wife allows no one to disrespect her. If, say, a shopkeeper does so, she might just blow up his grocery store.

There are beatings, all sorts of violence and lots of retribution. It is punctuated with laughs, most especially when DeNiro is the guest speaker at a local film appreciation gathering. I would guess we’re supposed to like the Manzoni family (renamed the Blakes in the witness protection program), but that’s kind of difficult to do.

Of course, the big question might well be how and why the feds put witnesses under their protection in France.

There are elements of lots of other familiar mob films here and director Luc Besson clearly had a good time putting it all together. And, even while he’s beating a plumber whose work estimate he deemed too high, DeNiro has some charm. In fact, he’s downright funny.

In all, The Family is not a great movie or, perhaps, even a good one. But it is oddly fun, enjoyable.

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