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Monday, November 4, 2013

The Family

Oh, Bob.

Also at Channel 24

What it's about

The Manzoni family is relocated to Normandy, France as part of the witness protection program after the family's patriarch (Robert Deniro) testifies against some members of his extended mob family. The members of his family soon come to find that old habits die hard though, much to the consternation of the case officer (Tommy Lee Jones) in charge of them.

What we thought

The crime-comedy genre is generally a pretty tough nut to crack. Its two constituent elements are by nature diametrically opposed in terms of tone and style so, invariably, for a crime-comedy to work, it has to either darken the comedy or lighten the crime aspects – or, alternatively, use the conflict between the two genres to ironic, even satirical effect. The Family's greatest sin is that it's never sure enough of itself that it never gets this balance right, which is made even worse as it tries and fails to be a family-comedy/drama at the same time.

It's a serious disappointment and is not a film that I could in good conscience recommend to anyone at all, but it's not like it doesn't have good things about it. There are moments here and there that are amusing enough and the cast is generally pretty solid in their roles, with a typically curmudgeonly Tommy Lee Jones being the obvious stand out. It's also interesting to see Luc Besson take a crack at something that brings him closer to his breakthrough film, Leon (aka The Professional), rather than the inadequate stylistic shift of The Lady, his well-intentioned but lackluster previous film.

For all this though, The Family just never looks like it knows what the hell it's doing. It's too cutesy and jolly to work as a scathing black comedy, but too bitter and hateful to work as a light family comedy. It's also never clear whether we're supposed to pity, sympathise with or despise its main characters, but they're generally so shallowly drawn that the easiest thing to feel towards them is apathy.

The basic plot is, of course, wisely simple enough, but without the characterization, themes or basic entertainment value to hang upon it, it feels less stripped down and more arbitrarily thrown together. I suppose it would be easy to attack its plot contrivances or its lack of detail, but you never care enough about anything else, to pay these problems much heed.

All of this basically adds ups to a nothing of a film – a nothing of a film that has a couple of faint chuckles and some nice performances, but a nothing of a film nonetheless – but to compound its sins, The Family isn't content with simply being irrelevant, as its casual and empty headed and hearted approach to violence makes it one that is all but guaranteed to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Again, if this was a successful black comedy, it could have gotten away with its violent and cruel underbelly but without that particular “get out of jail free” card, it just feels mean-spirited and frankly more than a little nasty – and not in a good way.

The Family is simply a woefully misjudged, inadequately conceived and all round nasty little film that is best off just being forgotten and is a waste of a perfectly good cast – especially Robert Deniro whose excellent turn in Silver Linings Playbook suggested that he might finally be done with this sort of garbage. I guess not.

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