1 Star — Empty
The Family is a comedic return of Robert De Niro to the world of the mafia, this time in the witness protection program. If you liked De Niro in Analyze This, you'll find this version to be on steroids.
Based on a series of preposterous presumptions, the Manzoni family, a notorious Brooklyn mafia clan, is relocated to a small village in Normandy, France. It seems the Manzonis have been relocated every 90 days since they cannot drop many of their old habits, such as burying anyone who disrespects them or drawing attention to themselves in a way that will get back to the American mob.
Now in a small French town living under the disguised name of the Blake family, Fred Blake (De Niro) decides to pass the time writing his memoirs, outlining his time with the gangs of New York. He sees himself as basically a good guy. After all, he always told the truth to the person he was about to hack to death! Fred’s handler, Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), has his hands full trying to get Fred to understand that they are trying to hide him from the mob, not draw attention to his whereabouts. Given the wacko nature of the “Blake family," that is not going to happen.
In this family, none of the apples falls far from the tree. Fred’s wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) blows up the town grocery store when she feels disrespected for “acting like an American.” Their son, Warren (John D’Leo), had made six illegal deals with students by lunchtime on the first day of high school, and his sister, Belle (Dianna Argon), has beat a boy to a pulp with a tennis racket for hitting on her, also on the first day of school.
By the time this mayhem picks up speed, many townspeople are dead, the mafia has caught on, the U.S. Marshal’s Service is in turmoil, and the Blake family has to move on. While there are many funny moments along the way, there are also scenes reminiscent of the movie Goodfellas, in which people are getting their heads bashed to a bloody pulp! This should be no surprise since Martin Scorsese, the producer of Goodfellas (starring De Niro) is also an executive producer of The Family.
Ironically, one of the funniest scenes in the movie is when Fred Blake is invited as a writer to the local film society’s showing of the movie Goodfellas to explain from a writer’s perspective whether Scorsese accurately portrayed the life of an American criminal. Fred nails it and gets a standing ovation!
From a comedy standpoint, The Family will give you a few laughs, but it will be interspersed with enough violence to shock the sensitivities of anyone PG-13 and under. The story doesn’t try to explain its inconsistencies, such as how the U.S. government allows a dozen people to get killed in a French town without anyone questioning why the Americans are there in the first place.
From a values perspective, there is nothing redeeming about this film, nor was there ever any attempt to be. Giovanni Manzoni (aka Fred Blake) liked his life as a mobster and sees himself as basically good. His daughter thinks he “is the best father anyone could have,” despite his debased moral character. To add insult to injury, the U.S. government doesn’t apparently ever hold the Manzonis accountable for what they do, as long as they rat on their old mob friends. Altogether, this is a role model for excruciatingly bad behavior.
» Do you think a family like this is worth protecting?
» When violence becomes a comedy, what do you think this does to our sensitivity and aversion toward violent behavior?
» Family systems recognize that members of the family tend to have the same emotional and moral level as the family as a whole. When seen in this mafia family it is obvious that such criminal behavior can be seen as normal by the children being raised in that family. What responsibility do you think we have as a nation toward such children?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.