Despite De Niro’s effort ‘Family’ experiences rise, falls in quality

Violence is the source of most of the humor in Robert De Niro’s new film “The Family.”  (Photo provided by impawards.com)
Violence is the source of most of the humor in Robert De Niro’s new film “The Family.” (Photo provided by impawards.com)

“The Family,” Robert De Niro’s latest film, is a strange mix of dark humor, violence and suspense. It seemed as though it wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to be. It tried to do a little of everything and got none of it right.

The film is definitely a black comedy, with much of the humor deriving from the more violent situations.  Ultimately, however, “The Family” cannot settle on one tone, creating a sloppy and chaotic feel.

“The Family” stars De Niro (“Silver Linings Playbook”) as Giovanni Manzoni, the patriarch of the family. This is a role De Niro is very comfortable in and can play with minimal effort, yet he also seems to have a lot of fun in the role.

Joining De Niro are Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”), Michelle Pfeiffer (“Dark Shadows”), Dianna Agron (“Glee”) and John D’Leo (“Wanderlust”). The cast plays well off each other, and the brightest spots in the film are the interactions between De Niro and Jones, with their antagonistic and reluctant friendship.

The film is about Manzoni, an ex-mafia boss who ratted out his friends and was put in the witness protection program. The Manzoni family, a group of violent psychopaths, is relocated by the FBI to Normandy, France, where they try to adapt to their new surroundings. The scenes between the family are an overall highlight, and it’s a shame they are few and far between.

Pfeiffer does well as the matriarch of the family. She displayed good chemistry with De Niro, although her accent is a bit inconsistent and sometimes disappears altogether.

While the main premise of this film is intriguing, it falls apart during the second act. The family separates as the kids go off to school and the parents stay home. It becomes a mess of subplots, with the father writing his memoirs, trying to fix the water in the new house and being invited to a movie screening.

The memoirs are the most relevant to the story, as they provide background information about the family and their mob ties while adding insight into the character of Giovanni. The other two subplots thrown in are underdeveloped and add little to the story other than moments of violence.

There are also subplots with the children at school, as the daughter develops a crush on a teacher and the son gets into trouble. The son’s plotline is infinitely more intriguing, yet the daughter’s is the one that gets more attention.

While the messy second act does provide some laughs and enjoyable moments, the third act is where the movie picks back up.

The action scenes especially were well-shot, adding to the suspense. While there is quite a bit of violence, it never felt over the top. When it was overdone, it was for comedic effect. There were also a few clever smash cuts that added humor.  Director Luc Besson (“The Lady”) made several interesting and well-done choices for these parts.

Ultimately, the biggest problem with “The Family” is its sloppy middle, which drags. There are only a few laughs to get you through it. The film could have shaved half an hour off and cut out some of the more tedious subplots, making the film more cohesive, rather than the chaotic mess it is.

It has some fine acting, some laughs and enjoyable moments, but “The Family” could have been so much more.

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