Unprofessional, by Sarah Brinks
I hated this movie. I just wanted to get that out of the way right up front. I don’t mean to be hyperbolic but this film was terrible, to the point when the audience around me would laugh or cheer I would get angry with them because the film didn’t even deserve that much credit. I went in with very low expectations thinking it would be on par with Mickey Blue Eyes or Analyze This. It turns out The Family makes those films look like actual art in comparison, mostly because they at least have a cohesive plot. I am going to spoil The Family in this review, because it already spoils itself by existing and no one should care enough about this film to be upset by knowing plot points.
The plot, if you can call it that, is that Robert DeNiro is an ex-mobster and his family moves to a small village in Normandy, France in what a appears to be the most recent in a series of many moves. They are in witness protection and no one is very happy about it. This is where my plot description really ends because the rest of the film just appears to be a series of disconnected events that all happen to the same group of people. What is really frustrating is the film never takes the time to tell you why Giovanni (DeNiro) snitches on the mob, so you never understand his motivations as a character.
What I really want to talk about in relation to The Family is the question of ‘tone’. I am flummoxed by the tone of this film. At times it is a broad comedy, albeit a stupid and unfunny comedy, but attempted comedy none the less. At times it is an extremely violent gangster film. Sometimes it tries to use the extreme violence as comedy. The biggest problem is that the violence is so cartoony and unreal but it is set in a very real world. Nothing is heightened in this world except the actions of the Blake family. Films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, In Bruges, or Zombieland seem to find the necessary balance between comedy and violence where The Family completely misses the mark. Because the tone of the film is so muddled never know how to feel about anything. Tonally this film gives you whiplash, you go from one extreme spectrum of emotions to the other in a matter of seconds and none of it is earned because these are terrible people that you don’t want to be okay because they are horrible to everyone. Everyone in the Blake family (except the son, Warren) has a short fuse, so at the slights of provocations they fly off the handle and often cause either extensive property damage or severe physical harm to innocent bystanders. For example, Michele Pfeiffer is Maggie the mom, goes to the local grocery store. She asks if they have peanut butter and of course they don’t. The shop owner and a couple of patrons go on to insult her and her family in French. Maggie then proceeds to pick up a propane tank, lighter fluid, and matches and blows up the grocery store. This is on the first day they have moved to town and they are in witness protection. It makes no sense, it is absurd, and is apparently something she does often as we find out later in the film. It is the laziest type of screenwriting to have the mobsters wife burn down a store just because they insulted her for being American. I guess that is “mob justice?”
The violence in this film is a real problem. The best comparison I can make is to Hot Fuzz. Don’t get me wrong The Family is terrible and Hot Fuzz is brilliant. Where the comparison comes in is that Hot Fuzz goes out of its way to establish a heightened setting, actual comedy, and a protagonist who is sympathetic so when the hyper-violence starts you are on board for the crazy ride and are actively routing for the hero. The Family on the other hand never makes the Blake family sympathetic or even likeable so when they start hurting the innocent people around them you are not on-board for it at all. We see that the daughter Bella has a real violent streak so in one scene she tells her brother that someone took her pencil case, then there is a smash cut to her beating the hell out of a girl in the bathroom and taking the pencil case back. If the film had any cleverness to it she could have threatened her “mob style” or used intimidation to achieve the same ends, not beat some poor girl senseless for no good reason.
The one exception in the film is the son Warren, played by John D’Leo. He is the one character who is consistent and not a complete psychopath. He is the clever one in the family and uses extortion and manipulation techniques to get what he wants from the other students in school and to get revenge on the bullies who beat him up on the first day. He is also smart. Unlike anyone else in this film he uses his brain, he doesn’t just punch, burn, and beat his way through life. The mob of course uses brute force as a weapon but it also uses finesse. Warren is the only character in the film that has any sort of finesse.
The stakes in this film are completely backwards. In Hot Fuzz the main character, Sergeant Angel, violently kills a lot of people at the end of the film, but we have seen that those are bad people who have done terrible things for very poor reasons. In The Family, MANY innocent people die in very violent ways. The mob hit men come into town to kill the Blakes and flat out murder the police and firemen in the town and we have to watch it happen. It is very upsetting because they are innocent people who serve their community and in no way deserve that terrible end. I know that this film is ridiculous and terrible but it in no way earned a scene where police and firemen die brutally. Also many of the neighbors who we have met throughout the film and are just innocent folks living their lives get murdered by the hit men. There is an attempted rape scene that is incredibly out of place, a graphic sex scene with a teenage and her teacher, and a teen suicide scene it comes out of nowhere. The Blakes have proven themselves to be such awful people I wanted them to die just so the people in this sleepy town could just go on with their lives.
I don’t even want to talk about it, but there is a scene in the film when DeNiro and Tommy Lee Jones, his FBI handler, go to the local film society to discuss the film Some Came Running, but the museum sends them the wrong film but instead they watch…. just guess… yup Goodfellas. That is the type of movie this is.
I don’t think I’ve done justice to how terrible The Family is. Some of the acting is okay and it is well shot. But the writing is so lazy it is unforgivable. When the credits came up and I saw that it was directed by Luc Besson, I understood why it looked so good but I was also confused about why it was such a piece of garbage. The film is based on a book and I don’t know anything about the book but this script should have been blown up in a grocery store fire and forgotten about forever. Do not go see this film. It does not deserve your money, time, consideration, or even most fleeting of thoughts.