In the film, The Family, Robert De Niro, one of my favorite actors, stars in what unfortunately, has become his signature role as an actor, one which he has perfected — a New York born-and-raised gangster. This time, De Niro plays an older version living in Europe with his family in witness protection because he ratted on his fellow “Good Fellas” to save his own skin.
Tommy Lee Jones plays the federal agent assigned to keep De Niro and his equally “Mafioso” and violent family safe and alive. Michelle Pfeiffer, still relatively new to the “bad girl and Mafia queen” scene, plays De Niro’s wife, Maggie. Together with their teenage daughter and son, the family creates a reign terror in their small town in response to what many would consider minor annoyances.
De Niro’s character, Giovanni, finds himself with too much time on his hands, so he decides to write his memoirs, “so the truth will be told.” Through his writings, we learn of his past antics, and his continued violence. As the film unfolds, we find that his daughter, son, and wife, are equally violent.
The film, directed by Martin Scorsese, noted for directing several of De Niro’s gangster hits, including Good Fellas (1990) and Casino (1995), is billed as a dark adult comedy. Costing $30 million to make, the film grossed $13.9 million during its mid-September opening weekend.
Instead of laughing, I found myself analyzing the plot of the movie and questioning whether this film was being offered up as entertainment or yet another “how to” manual for would-be gangsters. Although the violence was tempered by showing the aftermath as opposed to the actual occurrence of the incident, there were a significant number of dead, bruised, and badly-beaten bodies, brutal attacks, and blown-up or burned buildings, all in the course of a routine day, and all perpetrated by one of the family members.
The question that troubled me most was how will young people who watch this film be affected? Will they be encouraged to resolve their issues through violence?
Another film I found equally implausible and unsettling was We’re the Millers, starring Jennifer Aniston and directed by the young and unseasoned Rawson Marshall Thurber who only has seven directorial credits, two of which were shorts and one television episode. During its first five days, the film grossed $38 million.
Chucking her sweet-girl-next-door persona, Aniston plays a stripper enlisted to help her drug-dealing neighbor, played by Jason Sudekis, by posing as his wife and helping him transport drugs out of Mexico.
Earlier in the film, Sudekis’ character is robbed of the money needed to pay his supplier. In lieu of being killed, he agrees to go to Mexico and transport drugs. The couple enlists two teenagers, an insecure chaste boy and a runaway girl, to pose as their children, and the madness begins.
As the plot unfolds, the audience learns that the drugs they were to bring back were actually stolen from a drug lord of the Mexican Drug Cartel, who sets out in hot pursuit to regain his money.
Again, this dark comedy did not make me laugh, but instead left me questioning whether this is entertainment or a plausible how-to manual for drug trafficking?
In both cases, other moviegoers around me were doubled over in laughter while I sat and pondered my questions. Even after the movies ended, I thought about the violence, the messages, and the overall theme of making fun of something so detrimental and devastating to our communities and society. Is this entertainment or a how-to manual for criminal activity? That is the question I have not resolved or answered.