(France/US - 2013)
Directed by Luc Besson. Written by Luc Besson and Michael Caleo. Cast: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron, John D'Leo, Vincent Pastore, Domenick Lombardozzi, Jimmy Palumbo, Jon Freda, Stan Carp. (R, 112 mins)
Perhaps more than any other working actor, Robert De Niro seems to get a lot of shit about his career choices. While he's turned in some lazy performances in some some truly abysmal films (LITTLE FOCKERS, RED LIGHTS, FREELANCERS, and THE BIG WEDDING all come to mind), he can still bring that unique De Niro magic to a performance when he genuinely cares. He did some very good work in 2010's STONE, 2011's underrated KILLER ELITE and 2012's barely-seen BEING FLYNN, and his Oscar-nominated turn in last year's SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK was his best performance in years. He just turned 70 and is working more than ever. By the end of 2013, De Niro will have had seven movies released this year alone. While some of his contemporaries, like Jack Nicholson (offscreen since 2010), Warren Beatty (offscreen since 2001), and Al Pacino (five credits since 2010) are slowing down, it doesn't seem as if De Niro is saying no to anything. He could stand to be a little more choosy with his projects--there's no excuse for him taking third billing in a 50 Cent movie--but I don't think De Niro's career is in the dire condition his critics claim. Lots of good actors coast through mediocre movies for easy paychecks (I'm looking at you, Nic Cage). It just hurts a little more to see a figure as towering and iconic as De Niro, arguably the world's greatest living actor, slumming in stuff that's clearly beneath him and making no effort to hide his complete disinterest. But you can't say De Niro has lost it when you see him in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. De Niro's still got it--he just doesn't bring it with him to every movie set.
GOODFELLAS instead. Stansfield accompanies Fred to the event, and the pained look on Jones' face (I'd say he's spoofing his own image as a humorless sourpuss, but that's giving the film too much credit) is priceless as he tells De Niro "We're not gonna sit here and watch your home movies," to which De Niro replies "It's a classic! Admit it, it's your favorite secret jerkoff movie!" THE FAMILY comes alive most when Besson drops all attempts at comedy and things get grimly serious when Rocco and his goons show up and start mowing down the town searching for the family. It's a tightly-edited, suspenseful set piece that recalls the climactic hotel showdown in Besson's THE PROFESSIONAL (Jones' Stansfield was also the name of Gary Oldman's corrupt DEA agent in that film), but it doesn't belong in this movie. That, coupled with the abrupt shrug of an ending shows that Besson just doesn't seem all that interested in what he's doing here, which is a shame. THE FAMILY isn't so much a bad movie as it's just a missed opportunity. Between the casting of De Niro and Pfeiffer (who's got SCARFACE and MARRIED TO THE MOB to her credit) and Besson's love of classic American gangster films, this could've been a smart, inventive deconstruction of the mob movie genre, but instead, we get a squandered cast headed by De Niro trying to get his shitty plumbing fixed.