A Snuff Film for Formerly Great Film Careers: 'The Family'
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A Snuff Film for Formerly Great Film Careers: 'The Family'

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film Reviews | September 13, 2013 | Comments ()


It’s too bad I already quit over Getaway, because this one is almost as bad. And hey, I was the only one in the theater again, so at least once again I can say that no one other than the author was harmed in the writing of this review.

The Family revolves around a former mob boss in witness protection with his family in France. While nothing about the plot really makes any sense if held up to the light of reality, that is only the tip of the film’s iceberg of abject failure. Through the course of the movie, every innocent and likable character is meaninglessly murdered, while the titular family of contemptible characters survives while taking the time to level casual violence on everyone that gets within a hundred feet of them.

The Family is a pointless exercise, an egregious waste of talents both behind and in front of the camera. Robert DeNiro, Tommy Lee Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, Luc Besson. Seriously? This is what that pile of talent produces?

This movie has no entertainment value whatsoever, it serves no purpose other than to make you loathe its characters and by extension the talented actors who should know better, and damned well makes you resent Luc Besson. Time was, that man knew how to make a movie.

The movie fails to live up to basic standards of storytelling, the little guidelines that exist in order to define what it is on a basic level that engages an audience. The characters are unlikable miserable excuses for human beings. This is not necessarily a dealbreaker. Plenty of fantastic fiction has unlikable protagonists, even abysmal specimens of humanity that are only “protagonists” by virtue of the camera being pointed at them. But what makes an unlikable protagonist work is the same thing as which makes a likable one work: the character brings something compelling to the table, such that you want to know more about their story.

Every single character in this film fails that basic test. They are not compelling, but are superficial thugs, about whom we learn not the slightest interesting thing over the course of two hours.

We’re talking about a film in which the nominal protagonist buries a corpse in a shallow grave in his yard in the opening minutes of the film. A corpse we later learn belonged to a guy who committed the horrific offense of selling frozen lobster as fresh. Said corpse’s wife and children are looking for him, but don’t worry, they’re all executed. Our shining protagonist later uses a baseball bat and a hammer in order to systematically break all the limbs of a plumber for the crime of trying to overcharge him. He ties another man to the bumper of his car, and drags him half to death for the mortal crime of not personally fixing his brown tap water.

And then there is his family. His wife MacGyvers a bomb and blows up the local grocery store because the owner was mildly rude. His son sets up an array of rackets and con jobs at school, in addition to arranging for the school bullies to be jumped and beaten. His daughter beats at least two other students unconscious, finishing both times by walking back to give a final vicious kick to the face or ribs. This is apparently Besson’s signature for this film, as every single beating ends with that same triumphant act of spiteful violence. And yes, there are plenty of such occurrences, as the film spends around a third of its runtime showcasing men, women, and children being thoroughly beaten on the ground.

At no point in the film was I quite sure whether it was trying to be a drama or a comedy or some combination thereof. There certainly wasn’t a single point in the entire movie that caused me to laugh, but then I’m not sure if I was supposed to. It wasn’t unfunny like a bad Adam Sandler movie in which jokes are obviously present though completely lacking in humor. It had the repeated joke of the word “fuck” being used to convey all manner of emotional responses. It was so unamusing and unoriginal that I didn’t quite realize that it was supposed to be a joke at all until about the fourth time.

In any case, the characters the movie centers on are brutish thugs. No more, no less. They are not a statement of some kind, a meditation on violence, they are just caricatures of violence. I’m not squeamish about violence in film, nor even about the use of violence for the purposes of dark comedy, but this movie is just a series of beatings that are apparently supposed to be punchlines in and of themselves. Even if the joke was funny (and it’s not) it certainly wouldn’t be after using it over and over again for two hours. Oh and there’s an attempted rape near the end, so you know, it’s got that going for it too.

But it felt like the movie expected the audience to be laughing at these wild and crazy exploits of violence, since neither did the characters actually evolve or change in any way. You can get away with comedy in which there is no character development, but drama is a non-starter without it. The family that drives away to a new house at the end hasn’t changed in any meaningful way. They’re the same sociopathic assholes who drove up to a new house at the beginning of the film. That can work in certain contexts, like in a comedy where the lack of character change is part of the joke. But when presented with a movie utterly lacking in both humor and character development, I’m at a loss to say what the director was even aspiring to do.

Whatever it was, he failed. Catastrophically.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Walter Ray Choi

    I was laughing my ass off (but crying inside for the death of Robert de Niro)

  • buell

    At least the dog lives.

  • DeistBrawler

    Through the course of the movie, every innocent and likable character is meaninglessly murdered, while the titular family of contemptible characters survives while taking the time to level casual violence on everyone that gets within a hundred feet of them.

    That? That sounds awesome.

  • Misomaniac

    Sounds like life.

  • Guest

    So this isn't a My Blue Heaven remake?

    *Only Harrison Ford is in a worse career downward spiral then DeNiro.

  • IngridToday

    Ford's next role is in Ender's Game. While Orson Scott Card is basically a mustache twirling villain at this point, the book was really good. The film has potential. His previous films "Morning Glory" and "Cowboys & Aliens" weren't bad.

    Compared to De Niro being in this and that wedding movie that came out a year ago. He's really going for broke for terrible movies.

  • Johnny Utah

    Perhaps Dear Ingrid he's just stopped taking himself so seriously and is enjoying life and the opportunity to be on a film set with people he enjoys and doing what he loves? Sounds wonderful at age 70!!! Do any of you folks actually understand the aging process? Sometimes I think you all think these guys should still be strapping on boxing gloves and reshooting Raging Bull or Star Wars?! These guys you're bashing are in the 70's and still plying their craft. Crikey I pray I'll be as lucky! You should all be thanking these guys for still working or else we'd be up to our ears in Kristen Stewart and Liam Hemsworth - God help me!!!!!!!!!

  • bartap

    Ironically enough I just saw a trailer where DeNiro does, in fact, "strap on the boxing gloves" and goes toe to toe with Stallone in a boxing comedy(?)

  • merryxmas

    Ford didn't caricature himself in a live action Rocky & Bulwinkle at least.

    What is it though with aging actors that have the most impressive resumes in film that decide they reach 50 and they just want to nuke their entire reputation for the money? Is it like the equivalent of the normal mid-life crisis where the bald guy who trades his hoopdee in for a convertible to show all the young girls that they still got it? I mean they have enough money already right? DeNiro, Ford, George Lucas (ok not an actor), Denzel Washington, Adam Sandler (once upon a time in the 90s he actually was kinda funny), the list could go on and on.

    I picture Michael Caine saying "Mr. Wayne, some men just want to watch the world/their careers burn."

  • Johnny Utah

    I think you're rather missing the point when it comes to older actors. They work because they love being on a movie set. The "hip" thing when you're young is to present yourself as "conflicted" about being an actor...it's not a fit profession for a man, yada yada yada....but truth is when you get to be in your 50's or older and you find that the only time you feel like you're doing something that validates your existence you keep working...on the set it's Mr DeNiro this Mr DeNiro that - you're treated with the utmost respect and you're in a controlled environment where you're top dog. Would anyone here pass that up to...do what? Watch them make hand rolls at Nobu?
    It's the same old story: these folks are free to make movies - you are free not to buy a ticket. Don't blame the actors: blame the guys who make this crap and the studios who do the pre- buys based on overseas sales and tie ins and all the other crap that has replaced the actual ART of making a movie. Ironic you should mention Michael Caine - do you know how much crap you have to dig through to find a pure nugget like 'Harry Brown'??

  • merryxmas

    No I'm not missing the point but you clearly are as you contradict yourself when you say that all of these actors work just because they love being on the set and being addressed as Mr. this and Mr. that all to validate their existence. Meanwhile you blame the studios for replacing the ART in movies with mass market shlock. It's a collaborative effort and with the pathetically self-centered motivations you listed for actors (i.e. they don't give a fuck about art they're in it for the money and to have their frail egos stoked) they deserve all the criticism leveled at them for being the whores that they are. Which is, exactly my point in the first place. The one thing you are right about though is that we are free not to buy a ticket which is exactly what I'll do.

  • Johnny Utah

    Uhh take a breath there Merry. What I said is that you all bash these folks for doing what they enjoy doing. They are actors. Film Actors. Would you like them to work in a closet with a sock puppet and a smartphone? You clearly indicate your lack of knowledge in the subject matter by insinuating that actors have some kind of "super powers" relative to the quality of the work. There are WAY too many bodies out there for most actors - even a DeNiro - to have much bargaining power much less to impact the full measure of quality for the finished product. An interesting doc on character actors noted that even this strata of actors is being squeezed unmercifully by the studios when it comes to roles that actually pay anything. These fine actors are just happy to call themselves working actors. You might want to check it out before you open your blowhole again in my direction: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt24...
    What I was graciously trying to point out is that if you are a worker at an advanced age it is so nice to go to a place in this world where you receive respect and are treated nicely as you apply your craft - that would hold true for anyone but unfortunately in the larger workplace community older workers are treated like shit. How could I possibly hold it against a Harrison Ford or a Robert DeNiro or - a Robert Mitchum or Michael Caine that they enjoy pursuing their craft in such a lovely environment?

  • HMDK

    Oh yes, ageing stars have it hard. Especially female stars, who you don't even consider, making your comment even weirder.... But then we're still left talking about people with millions and millions. By the way, no one's bashing anyone for what they're doing. They're saying they're doing it badly.

  • Fredo

    I thought this was an action-comedy. But what you describe sounds, at best, like a really dark comedy. Except that it seems they forgot the laughter.

    And Luc Besson cashed out a long time ago. He's been too busy developing other mediocre action careers (like Louis Leterrier's and Pierre Morel's) and being Grand Poombah of the January Action Release.

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