The Family - TV Review

'Demonstrates Besson's ability as an ideas man in his stories and his continual ability to attract big names to his projects, as well as his subsequent propensity to waste both to at least some degree'.

If Luc Besson's recent career has proven anything, it's that the writer and director's output continues to vary wildly in terms of content and quality. The Family embodies this issue throughout, demonstrating Besson's ability as an ideas man in his stories and his continual ability to attract big names to his projects, as well as his subsequent propensity to waste both to at least some degree.

The heavyweights filling out the cast of The Family are Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and a considerably underutilised Tommy Lee Jones. The narrative centres on the life of Fred Blake (De Niro), his wife Maggie (Pfeiffer) and their two children Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D'Leo), a family with former connections to the Mob who have entered the FBI witness protection program after Frank - real name Giovanni Manzoni - informed on rival Mafia boss Don Luchese (Stan Carp). Due to the inability of all four - especially Frank - to keep a low profile, the "Blakes" have been moved several times by FBI agent Robert Stansfield (Jones), with the family seen travelling to their latest home in a small village in Normandy, France during the film's opening moments.

Much of Besson's film simply sees the director play with this concept, placing his characters in a variety of amusingly extreme situations to blackly humorous effect. Each character has at least one memorable episode, with Belle teaching a group of horny teenage boys why they should respect women being perhaps the standout, although Maggie's method of communicating her displeasure with the service at the local grocery comes in a close second. Both the idea and the tone of The Family are reminiscent of In Bruges, although never executed with the level of precision found within Martin McDonagh's earlier film.

The main problem is that the narrative presented beneath these moments is too often wafer thin. The reasons for the family's initial relocation is teased here and there, but never developed to any satisfying degree. Whilst each member of the Blake clan is given their own mini plot arc, Besson apparently loses interest in at least two of them, allowing Maggie's and Warren's stories to peter out without giving them a proper conclusion. Perhaps weakest of all, however, is the thread that sees Warren's article in the school newspaper ludicrously setting in motion the events of the violent finale. Even in The Family's somewhat exaggerated universe, it's an incredible stretch that feels like a desperate attempt by Besson to link up the different parts of his film.

Even with its considerable narrative issues, The Family remains a regularly entertaining watch. De Niro finds a pleasing balance between his hard-hitting gangster and comedy gangster personas - a prominent tongue-in-cheek reference to one of the actor's most acclaimed earlier roles is a delight - and the scenes he shares with Jones are undoubtedly the film's best, even if there are far too few of them. Strong performances from the rest of the cast also go some way to papering over the cracks to be found elsewhere. It's far from perfect, but there's enough within The Family to make it enjoyable despite Besson's uneven execution.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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