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