"The history of film is brimming with immoral protagonists"
The history of film is brimming with immoral protagonists. Audiences are consistently drawn in by the likes of Vito and Michael Corleone, A Clockwork Orange's Alex DeLarge, and just about every major character from any Tarantino movie. But rarely, if ever, do these films invite us to actually sympathise with these characters' actions, a skillful director is usually able to make a clear distinction between enjoying the protagonist's immorality and truly agreeing with it. It is in this sense that The Family, from veteran director Luc Besson (Léon, The Fifth Element) falls totally flat. In this comedy about an ex-mobster, we are supposed to laugh alongside Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as they terrorise innocent people, making the film into a vile, repugnant mess.
De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, a former gangster who, alongside his wife (Pfeiffer) and two teenage children (Dianna Agron & John D'Leo), is on the run from a past adversary and has spent years living under the supervision of the witness protection program. We first meet the family (now going by the surname Blake) as they arrive in an idyllic Normandy village having had their cover blown at their previous European location. They make a vain attempt to fit in but within days of arriving the family members have already beaten a local plumber to within an inch of his life and blown up the local supermarket, with a thin excuse of having been 'disrespected'. The only character who remains vaguely grounded is CIA agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) who fails miserably in his attempts to keep the Blakes in check.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the family doesn't stay hidden for long but what might raise a few eyebrows is the way they are caught out. In a bizarre sequence, the Blakes' location is given away by what might possibly be the biggest plot contrivance in the history of cinema, a convoluted shambles of coincidence that almost makes this disaster of a film worth watching for its sheer ridiculousness.
There is nothing inherently wrong with having immoral protagonists; such characters have featured heavily in a variety of comedies in recent years, the difference being that we are usually laughing at, rather than with, them. In The Family, the events are shown in such a way that the audience is an accessory to the characters' actions. Rock music blasts out whenever a family member is administering a beating, as if inviting the audience to stand up and shout, "Take that foreigners!". In an oddly misjudged side plot, the school-age daughter Belle has the hots for one of her teachers. The pair form a relationship after Belle practically throws herself on him but the teacher, realising what he is doing is illegal and wrong, quickly backs out. Belle turns suicidal in an attempt to win back the heart of her teacher and somehow, through all this, we are supposed to root for these characters?
The Family is a distasteful, abhorrent mess of a film that is doing no favours for its principal cast and crew who seem to be collectively struggling to make good films at the moment. Audiences that look past the questionable morals might gain a small amount of enjoyment from this film but will ultimately be let down by a limp comedy with a very weak plot.