For instance, when Michelle Pfeiffer’s character is snubbed at a local grocery store, she nonchalantly blows it up. Or when a beautiful scholar is hit on by bullies, she beats them to a pulp with a tennis racquet. The Family has been specially made for the mistreated victim in all of us. And the problem is: the more provoked the family, the louder we laugh and cheer at their lawless behaviour – something that, in South Africa comes with extra irony.
How is it possible that a filmmaker can get away with all this unruly, politically incorrect behaviour in the emancipated 2013? It’s because the clever script gives them licence – it’s smart, and it works well.
A notorious Mafia family, the Manzonis, spill the beans on their adversaries in America. They are put in a witness protection programme somewhere in Normandy, France – in a gentle town where nothing happens and the haughty French do not take kindly to American outsiders. In response, the brash Americans destroys their new countrymen’s arrogant sensitivities with violent, darkly comical behaviour and get away with it! For once, the audience is on the side of the bad guys, who use unorthodox methods to keep selfish and conceited townspeople in their place.
An American critic referred to the film’s unique humour as “comic noir”, and that is an apt description. Director Luc Besson indulges in the seedier side of humanity in this companion piece to his brilliant Leon (aka The Professional) which puts the audience on the side of the underworld. It is an entertaining experience – one you may enjoy if you allow yourself to give in to Besson’s satirical style of self-parody.
For instance: to have Robert de Niro explain the ways of the Mafia to an uninformed audience (after watching Goodfellas) makes this film worth seeing on its own.
The acting is inspiring. De Niro is in top form as, in what could so easily have become a stereotyped character, he exposes the surprisingly human and comical side to a killer, while Michelle Pfeiffer excels in a deliciously funny performance that rivals her turn in Married To The Mob. She is truly brilliant when it comes to the apparently unconscious throw-away line. And young John D’Leo as the youngest scheming Manzoni sibling skilfully complements De Niro’s style without imitating it.
This is an irresistibly funny, effective parody of Mafia films and the sly ways of criminals.