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The Family

by Bill Biss
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Friday Sep 13, 2013
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Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro star in ’The Family’
Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro star in ’The Family’  

Director Luc Besson has cleverly adapted Tonino Benacquista’s novel "Malavita" for the screen, with a richness of realism, dark humor, wit and carefully developed characters. The result is a surprisingly funny, yet ultimately tense, relationship saga of "The Family."

The film follows the current lifestyle of mob boss Giovanni Manzoni, husband and father of two, who has long been under the witness protection program. Manzoni (Robert DeNiro) just can’t seem to keep his old habits and criminal ways in check. What’s more, along with his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their teenage kids, Dianna Agron as "Belle" and John D’Leo as "Warren" they find themselves planted in a quiet town near Normandy in France.

It’s clear from the start that violence will always be too close for comfort. Yet, there is a remarkable nonchalance to the Manzoni family rechristened "The Blakes" for their new surroundings. Day-to-day activities slowly unravel as DeNiro takes on the persona of a "writer" and proceeds to document his memoirs and his life-long association as a kingpin in organized crime. Hence, CIA agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) becomes more and more in check to guarantee the family’s safety.

It seems it is not only Giovanni who could stand some watching over, since each additional member of his family has taken on a "mob" mentality in dealing with the frustrations and challenges of a new environment, a new school, and the problem of staying as nondescript as possible. Truly, this is where "The Family" creates many of its most memorable moments. Whether it is Michelle Pfeiffer putting her own stamp on the negative "French" attitude at the local supermarket, "Belle" (Argon) dealing with unwanted attention from the local boys at school with a tennis racket, or "Warren" (D’Leo) creating his own racket of corruption based on what he’s learned from upbringing... the simple question of "How was your day?" becomes hilariously apparent and much more complicated than any typical family conundrum. Both Dianne Argon and John D’Leo excel at unique characterizations in dealing with the equation of being a "chip off the old block" or "daddy’s little girl." Being a product of this kind of familial upbringing has definitely rubbed off.

Robert DeNiro is no stranger to this type of film role. Giovanni is a hardened man with a deeply dark criminal past, yet with each aggravation or aggravated "assault" that spews forth there is also a "likeability" factor to his character in his relationship as a paternal figure and husband. DeNiro plays it like a professional, and ultimately that is his genius as an actor. He takes the role of a formidable bad guy and brings a humanness of understanding to it that makes his flawed persona as head of his own family, one that is relatable and worth rooting for over the film’s chain of events.

Credit must be paid to Michelle Pfeiffer as "Maggie." Her role as the hardened yet emotional core of the Manzoni clan offers a warmth, sass and sensibility with a definite assist of humor to the proceedings. DeNiro and Pfeiffer, though appearing in the same film before, have never shared screen time until now. Their chemistry clicks in a multitude of ways and the two actors make an ideally strong pair in "The Family."

There will be no "spoiler alert" here. The tightly wound tension of the last portion of the film is well worth experiencing first hand as the secrecy and safety of the Manzoni family is severely threatened because of coincidental circumstances out of their control. Will they survive the ordeal and onslaught of the underworld assassins in the mob?

Feeling lucky? Take a cinematic ride with "The Family." It’s a well-crafted journey that mixes humor and danger with a completely entertaining edge on all accounts.

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