by Brad Nelson 4/25/14
Politics is easy. Movies are hard. I find doing movie reviews to be fun because of the challenge of putting into words why you like or dislike something. And it just gets tiring calling Obama and his friends “assholes,” which they are. They are so obviously these things, describing them is easy (unless you’re an intellectual, then it might take many books and articles to come to this conclusion).
But for movies, I find apt descriptions more difficult, particularly in the case of those movies that are close to being good, but like a car running on just 3 out of 4 cylinders, just can’t make it up that steep hill although the engine sure seems to be making a lot of horsepower noises.
The Family is one of these kinds of movies. It’s a dark comedy, so it allows for some suspension of the usual filters that you run a movie through. And maybe that’s part of the problem. By being a dark comedy, it tries to get away with too much. It thinks it has a license to do whatever it will. James Bond had a license to kill, but surely it takes more than violent death to make a good movie.
Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star as the parents of a family that is incognito in Normandy, France, in a Federal witness protection program. De Niro plays a Goodfellas-like mobster who has turned state’s evidence on his former mob family. And now the mob from America, of course, is doing all it can to find him and his family in order to “clean things up.”
De Niro and family are making this hunt easier than it should be. Everywhere they attempt to live incognito in this witness protection program, they erupt a swath of destruction, unable to rise above their mob-family instincts, which is the one and only shtick of this film. They bomb, murder, and bludgeon their way through the local residents who are often doing nothing but giving slight offense. And even the children act like little Goodfellas. Rather than being low-profile, they drive their Federal handlers crazy because they tend to be anything but.
Occasionally this shtick does produce some good dark-humor such as when Pfeiffer goes into a small grocery store in France and the locals (unaware that she can understand French) say all kinds of nasty things about her behind her back. Pfeiffer then goes to the back of the store and rigs a bomb. She walks out of the store. Boom! Those Frenchies and their remarks about the Ugly American sure got theirs.
And that’s about as sophisticated as this movie ever gets. Tommy Lee Jones tries to add some gravatas as the on-site Federal handler of this loose-cannon family. But the good-cop/bad-mobster thing between himself and De Niro doesn’t work for much.
This is a Martin Scorsese production, and it shows. It’s anchored in nothing but the idea that abrupt violence on film is inherently entertaining. And that’s about the depth and breadth of this movie. But, still, given the star power — and the eye-candy provided by De Niro’s beautiful daughter, played by Dianna Agron — it’s watchable if you’re aware of the limitations.
And that concludes this week’s De Niro marathon. Up next? Who knows? • (952 views)