“The Family” made its theater debut on September 13, 2013, much to the delight of DeNiro fans everywhere. DeNiro plays the role of an ex-mobster, showcasing the bad-guy persona viewers have come to know and love, but this is far from your typical gangster movie. Director Luc Besson crafted a film that tickles audiences with the sheer amorality of it all and the family’s complete oblivion to how “normal” families generally act.
DeNiro plays Giovanni Maznoni, a former mafia boss who ratted out a rival crime syndicate kingpin and is put into the witness protection program along with his family and under the watchful eye of a top FBI agent, Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones). After almost being discovered by the man he put away, Maznoni and his family are relocated to a relatively small town near Normandy.
Giovanni pretends to be a writer who is in the area writing about a historical event. Unfortunately, the locals are less than impressed, and they don’t show him any favoritism. This brings out the worst in Giovanni, who doesn’t like to be taken advantage of or disrespected, and his true colors soon shine through. He takes revenge on a plumber who couldn’t fix the pipes by beating him up, and spends his time at a “get-acquainted” barbecue dreaming about what he would really like to do to the attendees who criticize his grilling skills.
Giovanni’s wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is very much like her husband. When a storekeeper makes fun of Americans, she simply blows up the building. She decides it’s time to get involved in the church again, but the local priest asks her to not come back after she confesses all of the family’s sins to him.
The two Maznoni children, teenagers Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo), also take after their father. Shortly after arriving in town, they each make their own mark. Belle falls in love with her substitute math teacher, but beats another boy senseless with her tennis racquet after he makes a move on her. Warren starts up his own little mafia within the confines of the school, quickly becoming the largest player in the black market cigarette and prescription pill businesses.
Director Luc Besson of “La Femme Nikita” fame was also responsible for the movie’s screenplay, which was based on “Malavita,” a novel penned by Tonino Benacquista. Besson strayed from his usually rigid action films here, though, and he let the movie just be what it wanted to be. Subplots tend to start and end abruptly with no rhyme or reason, and the film’s back story is somewhat vague. With the amazing performances by the cast, however, the movie manages to flow just perfectly, coming together in a mesh of comedic gangster shenanigans that will keep you laughing.
“The Family” is not DeNiro’s first attempt at mobster movies or comedies, but it still is very different from anything he’s done before. The two-time Oscar winner is best known for his appearances as Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” franchise, Al Capone in “The Untouchables,” and James Conway in “Goodfellas.”
He amazed his fans in 2000 when he decided to play the part of Jack Byrnes in “Meet the Parents,” taking on the role of an ex-CIA agent who was meeting his future son-in-law for the first time. This was DeNiro’s first real stab at comedy, and it worked. He won two MTV Movie Awards for this role and received several other nominations, including Golden Globe and American Comedy awards.
Some people may argue that Michelle Pfeiffer stole the show in “The Family” with her portrayal of the family matriarch. One of the funniest moments in the movie is when she rails against the French peoples’ love of butter and cream, expounding on just what they can do to the inside of the body. Like DeNiro, Pfeiffer is fairly new to the comedic side of Hollywood. Dramas and thrillers were more of her forte, at least up until now, with appearances in hit films including “Scarface,” “Dark Shadows,” “Batman Returns,” and “What Lies Beneath.”
In ” The Family,” the Maznonis really have no idea just how ridiculous they appear when they try to blend into normal society, and it is that naiveté that makes them so endearing. It’s the juxtaposition of violence and everyday family life that makes the movie so fun to watch. You’ll be amazed and horrified at the sheer cruelty inflicted by all four of the family members, but you will quickly begin to cheer them on. If you’re a DeNiro fan, mark this film down on your list of must-see films this year.