I’ve always been a fan of black comedy and seen it as a British specialty, with films like “Keeping Mum” and the original “Death at a Funeral,” among other notables like “Dr. Strangelove” and “A Clockwork Orange.” American black humor has always seemed a bit more violent than thoughtful, so when trailers for ‘The Family” started popping up, I was intrigued, yet skeptical.
“The Family” is based on the French book “Malavitas” or “Badfellas” in English. The story follows Giovanni Manzoni and his family as they move about in the U.S. Witness Protection Program, to avoid the mobsters who they snitched on. When the family settles in Normandy, everything looks to be working out, despite the family’s rather violent tendencies, and they begin to settle in.
The movie is an oddball mix of violence and attempted self-discovery. While Fred Blake is trying his hand at writing a “memoir” of his time in the witness protection, a series of random ridiculous events leads to a bloody showdown between the family and the mobsters on their tail.
A funny premise, that isn’t very well set-up. Audiences will spend half the movie wondering who is after the family, why they are after them and only through vague hints in the dialogue do we figure out this move is ten years in and numerous locations out for the family.
The cast is impeccable and the real draw for the film. Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star respectively as Fred Blake, also known as Giovanni Manzoni, and Maggie Blake, who seems to have a habit of nonchalantly blowing up local grocery stores. Their long suffering witness protection officer is Tommy Lee Jones, whose scowl and growl should snap any wayward protectee back into line. Most of them anyway. The film also stars Dianna Agron of “Glee” fame and newcomer John D’Leo as the family’s enterprising youngest member.
I’m placing this movie in the C range. The cast plays their parts impeccably for a script that never quite achieves its potential. As with American black comedy, the blood is amped up, but the situations involving violence lend themselves to the humorous undertones. “The Family” is rated R for language, violence and brief sexuality.