Film Score: Evgueni & Sacha Galperini Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast
Starring: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron and John D’Leo
Angel-A. In the documentary on the film Jamel Debbouze kept going on and on about what a legendary director Besson was, and yet I had never heard of him. Well all that changed after diving in to La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional, The Transporter franchise, and what I consider his best film ever, the aforementioned Angel-A. So, when I saw the previews on TV for The Family, and Besson’s name flashed in the credits, I knew I couldn’t wait for it to come out on video.
Once again Besson indulges in his passion for mobsters and government agents, this time following a family in the U.S. witness protection program living in France. The film opens on the family around the table eating supper when a knock on the door is suddenly followed by an explosion and the assassination of the entire family. After the gunman cuts off the finger of the father and it makes its way back to Attica, the mob boss in prison compares it to fingerprint records and learns it was the wrong family. The right one has just moved into a house in Normandy. Robert De Niro is the father, a former mobster who turned evidence on his mob family so that he could make a better life for his real family, wife Michelle Pfeiffer, daughter Dianna Agron and son John D’Leo. Across the street live two FBI agents assigned to protection who occasionally get visits from their boss, senior FBI man Tommy Lee Jones.
Playing a gangster has become a cliché for De Niro, but Besson has a specific purpose for using him. De Niro takes the opportunity in Normandy to begin writing his memoirs, tells the neighbor that he is a writer, and soon the local English teacher has him over to a film festival to participate in the discussion afterwards. The film: Goodfellas. It’s a wonderful moment, but the rest of the family is equally entertaining. Pfeiffer blows up the corner grocery store when the proprietor begins making nasty comments about Americans to his customers. D’Leo has the local high school literally working for him in a matter of days, while Agron falls in love for the first time with a student teacher in the math department. All of the family members use their considerable strong-arm skills to put people in the hospital or pay back insults. In the hands of Besson it’s more fantasy than reality and all in good fun, even the massive amounts of blood spilled by the mob hit men still trying to find the family.
As always, Besson’s right-hand man is onboard, cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, and the two of them do some incredibly nice work in the small French village. Of course, what would a Besson film be without a young, virginal woman who looks like an angel and yet can beat an overeager French boy with a tennis racket until it breaks in two. Dianna Agron is perfect for the role, like father like daughter when, in another scene, De Niro reprises his Al Capone baseball bat routine from The Untouchables on a local plumber who tries to gouge him. Tommy Lee Jones plays his usual stoic role as the agent responsible for the family’s cover and is not amused by their antics. I loved the film, but then I’m a huge fan. For most viewers it will be mildly amusing but little more. In the end The Family is not going to win any awards or garner a lot of critical praise, but it’s Luc Besson . . . and that’s Godunov for me.