Movie Review: 'The Family' (2013)

When it comes to making movies that break the mold, director Luc Besson has been at the forefront.  With “The Family” he bridges the gap between foreign and American film-making, bringing the best from both styles into with this edgy and unpredictable film. 

“The Family” stars Robert De Niro as the head of a crime family who is now living under the Witness Protection Program’s watchful eye. Keeping a handle on them manages to be a difficult task for the WPP and an entertaining ride for viewers.

There’s no way to define this film in terms of genre because it covers so many, all with the signature expertise and confidence of Besson. “The Family” is a drama, a comedy and a crime thriller with mystery elements thrown in for good measure. There are no two ways about, the movie shies away from being categorized and this works to keep the often visited plotlines of movies past, feeling fresh and invigorated. 

The over the top antics of the movie draw away from the quirky reality it attempts to depict, while also lending to its unpredictable nature. Besson has a quandary in portraying characters that are heavily antagonists and making us root for them. What on paper should have been a big struggle, he pulls off with ease. 

Besson is a filmmaker who has never shied from giving audiences a little something to chew on, in terms of the grey or anti-hero archetype. One of his best films, “Leon: The Professional” is a prime example of pushing the limits of traditional leading characters that challenge the viewer to embrace their sordid composition.

As in “Leon: The Professional” it would not have been possible without, perfect casting. Robert De Niro, one of cinema’s greatest actors, is in fine form here. After a turbulent few years script wise, he comes roaring back with a project that gives him the outlet for a performance that is a not so subtle reminder of why he is a legend.

De Niro's on-screen confidence, bravado, outstanding charisma, and compassion, work in symbiotic unity. He does not beg the audience to root for him. He just makes it next to impossible for them not too. 

In his role as the family patriarch, Giovanni, he comes across as a loving father and ruthless criminal, drawing a characterization of a man who does not conform into a specific box, therefore making him hard to write off. 

Michelle Pfeiffer gives a strong performance as well. It is hard not to be reminded of her role in “Married to the Mob” where she also played a mob moll with a heavy Brooklyn accent. She imbues her role with feeling and charisma, while also sharing some well-crafted chemistry with De Niro. 

As for the children, the movie sidesteps movie cliché, portraying a brother and sister who are not enemies. Instead they act as partners in crime; a rarely portrayed family dynamic. Leading the well-casted sibling duo is Dianna Agron (“Glee”) in a marvelous turn as the daughter, Belle. 

Agron's quiet voice and breezy disposition pave the way for shock-filled moments that have far greater impact as she circumvents, the tough girl machismo seen in recent incarnations of similar characters. 

John D’Leo (“The Wrestler”) also turns in a stellar performance as the smooth talking and conniving son, Warren. The role of a little brother can be very tricky to execute. As an actor must walk the fine line of coddled youngster and defiant teen, D’Leo successfully strikes the balance.

“The Family” is a mob movie that acknowledges its conventional plot by honoring those that came before it. While there were a few stumbles; an overused gag from Jane Fonda’s romantic comedy “Monster-In-Law” to name one, it is an engaging and worthy film for De Niro and film fans. Rating: 7.7/10

2 comments

  1. Good review. You may have pushed me over to the side of "want to see it" after reading several not so warm reviews... But I have a thing for family centered dramas with a soft edge. Alright then, I'll get around to it and see if I agree. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback! Feel free to write back to share what you thought of it, would love to hear your opinion.

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