Hollywood has generally been good to The Mob, picturing them either as cartoon characters or sympathetic men of honor (The Godfather trilogy). Hollywood even has created made-Mafia men movie stars (Michael Squicciarini of The Sopranos).
But the mafia is not a joke and its members have nothing to do with cartoons. While this film is entertaining and humorous and rewarding, it is filled with violence and the violence is generally made appealing because the stars are doing it, often in a comedic way.
Robert De Niro is a Mafioso who has turned government witness so is a target for Mafia hitmen. He is in the witness protection program along with his wife, Michelle Pfieffer, daughter Dianna Agron, and son John D’Leo, living in Normandy in France, where it was filmed, overseen by federal agent Tommy Lee Jones.
What this film really has going for it, other than the outstanding cast and location, is its director, Luc Besson (who has a co-writing credit on the good script with Michael Caleo), who was responsible for the brilliant Liam Neeson surprise runaway hit, Taken (2008). Besson continues his magic here as he knows how to set up rewarding scenes in which bad guys get their comeuppance, and there are a lot of those scenes here, made easier since everyone in the film is a bad guy, including the good guys, except the federal agents.
De Niro has become an accomplished comedic actor (Analyze This and Analyze That), but he has also participated in some deplorable films, like The Focker trilogy that only produced one funny film. Here he’s got a good script, a good cast, and does a good job.
Pfieffer is still gorgeous and can still give a terrific performance as she does here, but the people who really stand out are the two children. Agron gives the best performance in the film as a really sexy teenager coming of sexual age and D’Leo is convincing as a manipulative chip off the old block.
The violence is the only thing that turned me off because it is sometimes graphic and profuse. Worse, it’s played for laughs and rewarding revenge. An innocent man getting his leg broken in many places by a baseball bat is not funny, no matter how De Niro and Besson play it. My female companion cringed often throughout the movie when the violence became too graphic.
But De Niro is playing a psychopath, and he does it well, even if he does play it sympathetically.
This is an enjoyable film providing needed escapist entertainment.
First time director/writer (with Matt Winston) Stuart Blumberg makes an auspicious debut with this deep analytical film based upon addiction in general and sexual addiction in particular. He takes an A-list cast consisting of Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, and Mark Ruffalo and creates a spellbinding drama about people with serious problems in their lives that necessarily affect their relationships.
Paltrow never ceases to impress me with the depth and range of her performances. While her role as Ruffalo’s girlfriend is a romantic one, he is a guy with big problems and the way those problems affect her is reflected by her facial expressions. This is acting at its best.
But the good acting is not limited to the big names. Josh Gad gives a spectacular performance as a sloppy fat guy who is overwhelmed by his sexual urges. He is paired with Dede (pop star Alecia Moore in her first film role) and they make an unlikely couple.
One of the interesting aspects of this is how does one form a relationship with a person who is a sexual addict? This is the problem that faces Paltrow. Emily Meade appears as Becky, who enters the film in its latter stages and gives one of the most affecting, frightening performances in the film.
Finally, giving even more depth to the film is Patrick Fugit, who plays Robbins’ son, Danny. Their relationship is troubled like all the other relationships in the film.
All in all this is a realistic film of words and emotions, the type — in this day and age of special effects and idiotic cartoon characters — one generally only finds in art houses specializing in foreign films.