DeNiro stands out in The Family

DeNiro stands out in The Family

James Bickford

Photo courtesy of urbankompass.com

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Robert DeNiro returns to the silver screen in The Family, one of his finest performances since Goodfellas.

DeNiro plays Giovanni, a world-weary ex-gangster hiding from his “friends” in the mafia with his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), and their two children (Dianna Agron and John D’Leo). With the help of director Luc Besson, this all-star cast immersed me in their story, and I was drawn into the struggles and conflicts this family faces every day. I came for the comedy, but I stayed for the wonderful plot and characters.

Though every actor plays their part very well, it is DeNiro who is the standout. His character is completely compelling – what his emotions were, mine were as well. Giovanni’s “simple solutions” to the problems he encounters are hilarious. If you know anything about ex-Mafiosi, you can probably guess how well it goes for a dishonest plumber who seeks to swindle Giovanni out of a small fortune. The poor sod.

Actor Tommy Lee Jones also delivers a great character – a federal agent assigned to protect Giovanni’s family from the mobsters who want their heads. His character is snide and witty, and gets far too little screen time.

The major conflict in the film is that Giovanni “rats” on his former “family,” causing his old don to want him dead. As such, Giovanni has to remain inconspicuous, which he and his sociopathic family find incredibly hard to do. This plot line is where the film truly shines – from his wife blowing up a supermarket, to his son becoming an underworld kingpin at his new school, to his daughter who falls in love (okay, this one’s actually not so bad, but she has her own problems). The best part is seeing Giovanni’s on-screen reaction to seeing Goodfellas, included in the movie as a hilarious callback to DeNiro’s history with gangster roles.

It is an abhorrent idea for a frustrated woman to blow up a supermarket, but in the film it’s a riot and cathartic for anyone who has had bad customer service. DeNiro’s family lives the lives that we all want to have, like being able to forcibly deal with frustrating problems while facing minimal consequences. This is where the bulk of the comedy comes from, along with the very surprising number of uses for the “F” word, which the film proves usable to describe the complete range of human emotion.

The Family has a heart, and one that seems surprisingly genuine for an over-the-top comedy like this. The brother and sister, in particular, have a series of very touching moments, and DeNiro’s character has surreal optimism. In one scene, he shares the details of the “good day” he is having, which could, in no sane manner, be described as a good day. Giovanni is funny, wise, and uplifting all at the same time.

The movie is divisive among critics, but I think that The Family is marvelous. It provides great moments of comedy and compelling scenes of drama. The film is not without its flaws, but they are, for the most part, entirely negligible. Fans of mafia movies especially will really appreciate DeNiro’s latest film. I give The Family a 90/100.