The Manzoni family is well adjusted… to the mob life. Family head Giovanni (Robert De Niro) has dumped his past as he sits in witness protection, sent across the world to Normandy. Under a watchful eye of FBI agents, Giovanni plots out his memoirs on a typewriter as his kin solve their own issues.
Following The Family are their eccentricities, typically violent ones. Much of the humor is sickly comedic, concerning mobsters for life without moral compass and notably short fuses. For the kids Belle & Blake, it’s school. These well adjusted French nationals have no idea the hell set to be unleashed on their social circles. For the wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), it’s about making killer pasta with sub-par ingredients and lashing out at local grocers.
Luc Besson and Michael Caleo adapt Tonino Benacquista’s book with a smirk and focus on family unity. Building their relationships and dysfunctionally functional livelihood adds levels of measured chaos necessary to harness dramatic shifts in the closing act. These are clearly people who, even amidst the vintage beauty of this small town, cannot escape their tendencies for backlash. Giovanni appoints himself as a central leader of the community, turning political (his form of politics anyway) to better serve these kind, unassuming folks.
Family’s issues are lingering threads which becomes adjoined to nothing. A school fling concerning Belle (Dianna Agron) and her impromptu math tutor is slung around as a convenience device by the film’s end. Belle needs to be in a specific spot for a specific reason, and thus diminishes any character growth from these events. Same goes for Blake (John D’Leo), although to a lesser extent: His future seems better ingrained within the narrative.
This becomes a story surrounding itself on De Niro’s performance, key to a believable level of mafia credibility. Swerving between nonchalant family man and brutish thug with violence as a sole answer for arguments, Giovanni becomes a character unable to detach from his past. Instead, he revels in it while holding himself in high esteem, much to the dismay of a grizzled security lead played by Tommy Lee Jones. The sense of Jones’ despising this sometimes ruthless killer runs through their conversations as intelligently written comedy. Otherwise, Family is not so subtle.
For a close, the film wears its “action” comedy moniker, Luc Besson diving into his routine gunplay for a gathering of internal mafia conflict. In the way are friendly citizens who seem built up only to use as emotional fodder and a needlessly included allusion to rape, overturning whatever comedic heart Family wore proudly earlier. Explosions and assault rifles chop up the softened demeanor, without enjoyable results. It becomes an unfortunate close to a film acting without the outlandishly styled, glorified mafia routine. Or, maybe that’s the point: There is no running from life decisions, a rather crude message played for sometimes unremarkable laughs.
Fox transitions this (mostly) film-based source to Blu-ray with a tough encode. It’s surviving the grain Mafia’s assault on its compression quarters the best it can. Heightened and thick, the resulting digital appearance does not seem to be faulted against the disc, but rather mastering.
Family has been bludgeoned with a case of sharpening, results visible through notable halos and overall unnatural fuzziness. Edges never carry the cleanliness they should, and despite a superior abundance of close-up facial definition, lines are impure. Tommy Lee Jones specifically feels particularly edgy in tight.
Contrast is not helping, fitting the piece with an aggressive and substantial layer of intense light. It adds to the digitally graded vibe. Especially poor are blacks which conquer all with insubordinate crush, smashing its shadow detail co-workers. Numbers of scenes brush by without any adherence to anything short of pure black. This isn’t depth creation so much as it is repulsive loss of fidelity.
As if to stretch all of its elements to extremes, Family is ripped as far as color timing is concerned. Bludgeoned with oranges and slapped with blues, the warmth of the countryside is less the effect than overly digital flesh tones. This is an obnoxiously, near monotone effort which fails to hold back. Few escaping primaries, mainly within the school setting, are a reprieve from the obnoxious tinting.
Sound design creates fun contrast, sweeping between quaint ambiance (dogs barking, birds chirping) and weighted action to better elevate the latter. Home life is mundane, and school is fitted with surrounding lockers slamming. It’s normalcy, having clear implications on these characters.
Then, things satisfyingly explode. Bass is hearty if not strengthened and bullets flip between channels to convey the chaos of these small town shoot outs. Debris fields prove enveloping whether caused by impacting bullets or detonations. Slim use of the stereos for positioning is a downer and dialog is strictly center channel material.
A typical making-of runs 10 minutes, running through the actors and source book. Snippets of behind-the-scenes footage can be found spliced in. The Many Meanings of Fu%# is a montage of F-bombs and their various contextual purpose. Fox loads up some trailers and moves on.
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