Starring: Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Diana Agron, John D’Leo, Jimmy Palumbo, Stan Carp and Vincent Pastore
Writer(s): Luc Besson and Michael Caleo (screenplay), based on the novel by Tonino Benacquista
Director(s): Luc Besson
Let’s be clear. There are movies that feature a plot device about protecting a witness before they testify. Bad Boys, Eraser, Bulletproof and Snakes on a Plane just to mention a few. Then there are movies about what happens to the people who disappear into the Witness Protection Program. The Family is one of the better attempts in this specific genre, but being better than mostly mediocre movies isn’t great praise.
“Don Luchese” (Carp) was a boss in the mob in the New York City borough of Brooklyn until he made the mistake of trying to kill “Giovanni Manzoni” (DeNiro) and his family. Manzoni was one of the bosses working for Luchese and we never do find out what he did wrong. What we do learn is that after the failed hit, Manzoni drops a dime on Luchese who winds up in prison. Fast forward five or six years and “Agent Stansfield” (Jones) of the FBI is being forced to relocate the Manzoni family for the umpteenth time. Because this has happened time and again, Manzoni and his wife “Maggie” (Pfeiffer), their daughter “Belle” (Agron) and their son “Warren” (D’Leo) are being relocated to a small village in Normandy. As in France. They are now the “Blake” family and they have very mixed feelings about their new home. If you saw the trailer for this film you saw how Maggie reacts when she is not welcomed with open arms in the village’s grocery store. Belle and Warren have different types of experiences when they enroll at the local school. Worst of all is that in his new identity as “Fred Blake”, Manzoni wants to write his memoirs. Agent Stansfield is not happy about that.
Things get even worse when through a series of coincidences, Don Luchese discovers where the Manzonis are hiding from him and he dispatches a team of goons to dispose of them once and for all. All four of them and anyone else who gets in the way. Labeling this a comedy would be wrong. Labeling this a drama would be wrong. Labeling it an action film would also be wrong. It has elements of all three and while individually they work, they don’t work as well together as one might expect.
Robert DeNiro has played the mobster so many times that unless he’s actually intense in the role as in Goodfellas, or over the top as in Analyze This and Analyze That, it just looks routine and is unexciting. The rest of the cast is decent but this is a film that doesn’t do justice to its source material, a novel titled “Malavita” which become “Badfellas” when it was translated into English three or four years ago. Still it is an interesting take on witness protection, after the witness is in hiding and that makes it worth checking out.
Rating – R for violence, language and brief sexuality
Running time – one hour and fifty-one minutes