Robert De Niro starring as a gangster; it’s a bold move for the studio to make. It isn’t exactly his normal realm of acting. But in “The Family” he stars as a former mob man who is placed in witness protection along with his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and two kids after he rats out his old mafia family members. Luc Besson wrote and directs the film while Martin Scorsese produces.
In case you couldn’t tell, those first sentences were coated with an extreme level of sarcasm. De Niro’s best roles have been in mafia movies (“Goodfellas”, “The Godfather: Part II” and Casino”, just to name a few). So just the idea of him playing a former mob boss who is placed in witness protection because he snitched on his family is enough make one chuckle. But that is really all this movie is: a bunch of ideas that seem funny on paper but once put on screen are over longed and poorly executed.
Every scene in this movie just feels like it is an individual concept for a skit. There is no flow or rhyme or reason, events kind of just happen and then they move on to the next scene like nobody’s business. For example, there is one great part where De Niro’s son (played by John D’Leo, who is by and far the best character of the film) is performing mafia-like activities around the school, such as buying muscle for protection or starting a cigarette black market. This could be worked into comedic gold however it is rushed and it all ends in one scene. Anne Hathaway was alive longer in Le Mis than this kid was running his operation (spoiler: Anne Hathaway wasn’t alive for long in Le Mis).
The largest flaw I found in “Family”, however, was how unnecessarily violent every character is, especially our “good guys”. They beat up innocent civilians with anything ranging from tennis rackets to hammers. It is meant to be darkly comedic but all it does is remove any empathy the audience can feel towards the them.
The best aspect of the film was the shootout scene with the mafia hitmen (wearing the obligatory black fedora hats, of course). When the guns are going off and bodies are dropping, it brings back memories of all the great gangster movies throughout the years but that in turn makes you realize how inferior this film is.
It seems that after his Oscar-nominated work in “Silver Linings Playbook” De Niro wanted to go back to what he has been doing for the past ten years: phoning in performances and smirking at the camera because he knows it. “The Family” is a comedy that isn’t funny, and a gangster movie with only one ten minute scene of gun shots. The rest of the time is nothing but awkwardly transitioned scenes, poor pacing and a lingering sense that this was a hugely missed opportunity.
If you really have a craving to see a new gangster movie, check out “Gangster Squad” instead. “The Family” is like that couple you know from work that you try to not associate with but when you meet up at the company party you force a smile but just want to get out of there.
Critics Rating: 4/10