A Family on the Run

Written by Shalini Langer | Published:September 21, 2013 1:41 am


Director: Luc Besson

Cast: Robert de Niro,

Michelle Pfeiffer,Tommy Lee Jones


Peanut butter vs cheese. Hamburger vs baguette. Brooklyn vs Cholong-sur-Avre. You can feel the frustration the Monzoni mob family must feel at being transported from New York and then Riviera to a small village in Normandy as part of a witness protection programme. However,does the film feel it too?

That is the question. Directed by action film pro Luc Besson,everyday gruesome violence is par for the course for not just the ex-mafioso Giovanni (de Niro),but also his wife and school-going children,in Malavita. Their brief stay in Cholong-sur-Avre itself is marked by a massacre,many bloodied people and bombed houses.

And none of this weighs too heavily on the conscience of any of the four Manzonis,who are passing off as “Blakes,the Yankees” here. And that’s why Malavita just skips along without making an impression. It is seriously confused about where it’s going with this story,except that the premise,based on a novel by Tonino Benacquista,sounds good on paper.

Giovanni is on the run as he has snitched on his fellow gangsters back in Brooklyn,and they have set a prize of $20 million on his head. As if that isn’t enough of a headache for his FBI handler,Stansfield (Jones),stationed along with him in the village,Giovanni has started fancying himself as a writer since discovering a typewriter. Stansfield dreads what is coming out of that exercise.

That could be a story in itself but Malavita keeps breaking away to throw the Manzonis into the way of others,from which the other party generally emerges mortally bruised. It’s the film’s random casualness towards these episodes that is the most disturbing part of Malavita. It isn’t treated as a character flaw but as something that comes with the package,that must be accepted for having a mafia guy who has done a good deed in your midst.

Initially,you feel Besson — with the backing of producer Martin Scorsese — is trying to show an out-of-control mafia guy’s struggles with retirement. And that his family is facing the same struggles,right under his ignorant nose. In fact,as long as the film sticks to how the Manzonis stand out in the Normandy village,it is funny. Particularly Pfeiffer,who swings between lame domesticity and “married to the mob” despair.

It strikes its best note when Giovanni,posing as a writer of history,waxes eloquent on Goodfellas at the local film club. The weary Stansfield’s dread as de Niro walks up to the stage is to be seen to be believed. Few do weary better than the creasy-faced Jones,and few know gangsters better on screen than de Niro. What passes between them in those few,unsaid seconds is what Malavita should have aimed for.

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