Having lived my whole life in North Carolina, the mafia has never been something to cross my mind in my everyday life. Of course it’s not at its heyday like during Prohibition, but I do know that there are areas in the country where organized crime is as much a part of the communities as the garbage men or the post office. However, Hollywood is one place where gangsters and the mafia are always thriving. In fact, some of the most highly regarded films of all time have centered around the mafia, and everything that it entails. But despite the constant presence of the mafia film, they aren’t generally promoted as something to make you laugh. As great of a film as The Godfather may be, it certainly didn’t produce a lot of belly laughs. The Family, however, seemed to be taking a fresh look at this well-known genre, and finding some humor in the rough world of the mob.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of The Family is the involvement of Martin Scorsese as producer and Robert DeNiro as the star. With perhaps the two men most closely associated with mafia films involvement, there was an assurance that we wouldn’t be getting a parody, but a loving look from those closest to the genre. DeNiro’s performance reminds us that, when it comes to playing a mob man, there’s no one better. Even as a retired, or more accurately in-hiding, former mafia kingpin, he fits everything you would expect from a gangster, from the ruthlessness, to the commitment to a certain criminal’s code (of course ignoring the fact that he ratted out his former cohorts). His reputability and expertise kept the movie from becoming a farce, but rather kept things on track with the gritty world we expect from our movie mafias.
On the other hand, The Family could have used perhaps a little dash of farce. While the bones of the film were held together with the reality of a former mafia family on the run, the filmmakers seemed to forget the loosen up just a little for the laughs they had hoped to produce. A perfect example is the scene from the trailer in which an excellent Michelle Pfeiffer blows up a grocery store after the workers and patrons treat her rudely based on her American origins. While it’s funny to think of a housewife going from hunting for peanut butter to blowing up the store, like any cartoon, it’s much funnier when no one really gets hurt. It’s much easier to laugh at someone with a smoke-covered face and a singed moustache than a simple murder.
Where The Family fell short was simply in its inability to settle on a tone for the film. While the supporting cast may have been somewhat forgettable, or in the case of Tommy Lee Jones, underused, DeNiro and Pheiffer do give rather good performances, however they simply don’t seem able to settle into a grove, unable to choose between gritty reality or an amusing look at a well-known genre. Directed by Luc Besson, The Family is technically a well made film, it simply cannot settle on a focus, leaving several interesting paths unexplored. While it may have been a heartfelt homage to one of Hollywood’s most beloved subjects, The Family simply couldn’t decide which story it wanted to tell.
My Rating: 2.5 Stars