It's brutally funny, not all the time.
Director: Luc Besson (The Transporter)
Screenplay: Besson, Michael Caleo, based on a book by Tonino Benacquista
Cast: Robert De Niro (Mean Streets), Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys)
by John DeSando
“Like Al Capone said, asking polite with a gun in your hand is better than asking polite with nothing.” Giovanni
Family values in The Family are not your grandfather’s values unless, like me, your grandfather ran a numbers business in the basement of his barbershop. All of Kodak Park enjoyed that true color.
The Giovanni Manzoni/Fred Blake (Robert De Niro) family has a paterfamilias who is a notorious Mafia don in the FBI witness protection plan. (De Niro as a mobster is the fall’s most unimaginative casting but he’s funny.) His values are ratting on his fellow Mafiosi to save his legal hide, forcing him to hide with a $20 million reward dogging him. The family’s love for each other is unconditional and treats challenges with a baseball bat rather than diplomacy. If a Frenchman disrespects Americans, he might find his supermarket in flames.
If this sounds like a story to turn the nuns’ heads completely around, don’t worry; it’s ultra “black comedy,” equal parts Italian-American gangster satire and laughable domestic shenanigans. That midway in the film Fred gets to speak on the merits of GoodFellas before a French crowd in Normandy is one of the nice meta-critical-comedic turns followed by carnage we’ve come to expect from Mob films. It’s pretty much territory owned by Scorsese and De Niro. Additionally, the use of the “f” word has never been so deftly played in a comedy.
Besides the joy of seeing De Niro have a good time with the many tough characters he has played in his career, you get to see Tommy Lee Jones play a gruff FBI agent, Robert Stansfield, who can trade barbs with his charge, Fred, who has such a propensity for violence (he beats up the only plumber within 20 miles of town) that Fred is a full time job for Robert. If Jones’s face can’t scare Fred into being a good boy, then the threat of losing witness protection does the trick.
Directed with wicked tongue in cheek by La Femme Nikita’s stylish Luc Besson, The Family sports an accomplished supporting cast: Michelle Pfeiffer as mom Maggie is gritty Brooklyn with her famous beauty well preserved. The two kids played by Diana Argon and John D’Leo are spot on sweetly dangerous as you might expect.
It’s all in GoodFellas fun, a mildly amusing and unusual story that beats many mainstream comedies this year.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com