It’s a tale as old as time. Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) is a Brooklyn mafia boss turned snitch. Now in witness protection with his rough and tumble family, he, his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their two kids (John D’Leo and Glee‘s Dianna Agron) are trying to integrate into their latest home – a quiet little French town. Trying to keep the family safe by convincing them to keep a low profile is CIA babysitter, Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones). Luc Besson directs this dark comedy.
While the CIA wants the Manzoni family to avoid drawing attention to themselves, their instincts tend to get in the way of that strategy. With young Warren (D’Leo) creating his organized crime ring at school, Belle (Agron) attracting a certain type of attention from boys, and Maggie’s (Pfeiffer) pyromaniac tendencies, that’s easier said than done. That’s not to mention Giovanni’s particular way of dealing with a brown water issue, as well as the fact that he’s decided to write a memoir revealing the truth behind his life.
The thing that struck me first is the rhythm to this film. The visuals and the music flow together particularly way, giving it something of an operatic feel, though subtly. It works particularly well in setting the mood, which is one of skewed comedy, leaning towards black humor. The characters don’t realize anything about their situation is funny – after all, the mob might show up to kill them at any time, and they’ve got plenty of other things to worry about, like their television set getting lost and annoying neighbors trying to be helpful. The whole thing has a very The Whole Nine Yards flavor to it.
The beginning of the film sees the family relocating to a new safe house, having blown their cover at the last one. If it wasn’t for knowing the plot beforehand, however, that’s not immediately apparent. A lot of the plot, in fact, is not explicitly stated up front. Instead, we glean a bit of who these people are little by little as the story unfolds. It’s obvious from the get go that we’ve dropped into the middle of a story rather than the beginning. It works. The slice of life feeling we get adds to the offbeat realism and helps make this particular style of humor work.
While the film doesn’t take itself entirely too seriously, the characters all do. This is a mob family after all, and they have a very serious way of doing things, with delightful results. It isn’t all fun and games though, gangsters with guns could be around the next corner – and eventually they are. The premise promises action, and the film doesn’t renege on that promise, culminating with pretty great (though a tad short) firefight.
Too me, this film just works, and works well. It has its own sense of humor and style and runs with it. Even when one of the crucial plot points is clearly manufactured – relying on a series of extremely unlikely events – it’s okay. It’s all part of the charm.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“It’s incredibly mediocre and that’s all I have to say about it.”
My Rating: Four out of Five Hats
The Family hides out in 3,091 theaters, September 13