Wednesday 8 March 2017

Movie Review: Family Business (1989)

A multi-generational crime drama, Family Business is a dour exercise in stretching a simple idea well past its breaking point.

In New York City, Vito McMullen (Dustin Hoffman) works in the meat distribution industry, having distanced himself from his father Jessie (Sean Connery), a life-long thief. Vito has worked hard to ensure that his son Adam (Matthew Broderick), now in his early twenties, gets a good education and never comes close to a life of crime.

But Adam is restless for adventure. He drops out of university and hatches a plan to break into a high-tech company headquarters to steal DNA research vials and log books worth $1 million. Jessie immediately and enthusiastically agrees to help. Vito is unable to talk his son and his father out of the heist, and so joins to try and protect Adam. The theft at first appears to go well, but then things go very wrong.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, Family Business never gets off the ground. The stellar cast features three actors at the top of their fame, Connery enjoying a late career resurrection, Hoffman at his mid-age peak and Broderick the hot young star. The actors do their best but are simply too powerful for the underdeveloped material, and the flimsy Vincent Patrick story sinks under the weight of the talent pushing against it.

Although the stars ensure a base level of watchability and the germs of some good ideas spark the occasional moment of interest, the film is overall slow and boring, the tension and drama never convince, and given the talent involved, the key characters remain surprisingly shallow. The backstories of the three men are sketched in the broadest of strokes through juvenile tales. The supporting characters, in the form of wives and mothers, are next to non-existent.

With the absence of substance embarrassingly obvious, the film is filled with bloat. There are two prolonged family dinner scenes celebrating Jewish heritage, two wakes celebrating the Irish spirit complete with two renditions of Oh Danny Boy, both equally unnecessary. Fathers and sons regularly slap or punch each other between hopelessly trite arguments about parenting methods, what really matters in life, and sons expressing disappointment in their fathers.

Lumet reaches for a theme about the sacrifice of the father not being appreciated by the son. It was the choice of Vito to try and build a respectable life for Adam and he should have known better: Jessie's fun-loving, grab-life-by-the-balls approach was always the way to go. And that's about as far as the message of the film extends, one hour and fifty minutes of tiresome fatherhood pop psychology punctuated by the single action sequence.

An unfortunate waste of talent on both sides of the camera, Family Business is a bust.

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