The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Family Business

When I think of director Sidney Lumet, I think of any number of movies, many of them classics. 12 Angry Men, Network, Fail-Safe, Dog Day Afternoon. But once you get past those well-known classics, I can't say I'm too familiar with Lumet's 40-some other movies. Stumbled across one at Netflix that sounded intriguing, 1989's Family Business.

Just a few months away from getting his Masters, Adam McMullen (Matthew Broderick) decides he doesn't like where his life is heading and drops out. Instead of finishing out school, he stumbles across a plan -- a heist -- that could net him $1 million dollars. He needs help though and seeks out his grandfather, Jessie (Sean Connery), a lifelong crook, to join him in the job. Never one to go the easy route, Jessie agrees, approaching his son and Adam's father, Vito (Dustin Hoffman), to join in. Vito has done his best to make sure Adam doesn't go down this route, but with intentions of protecting his son, agrees to help out on the seemingly easy, flawless robbery.

Every director has their hits and misses, the classics, the bombs and those that fall somewhere in between. Judging solely by IMDB ratings (and those are unquestionable, right?), Lumet doesn't have any real bomb, just an awful stinker. He just has weaker efforts, and from the ratings/votes and my initial thoughts, this is one of his weaker efforts. That's not to say it is a bad movie, just not as good as some of his other movies I've seen. A lot of his touches are there, especially a character-heavy story that allows the actors to really delve into backgrounds and relationships. It is dialogue heavy -- not a bad thing with Connery, Hoffman and Broderick around -- and isn't particularly flashy. Meat and potatoes kind of camera work, the focus clearly on the actors and their talents.

In terms of comparing it to a more well-known (or at least more recent/familiar) film, all you have to do is look at Lumet's recent films, 2007's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. It is similar in its story matter, family members involved in a heist. And if heist movies have taught us anything, it's that nothing....NOTHING...will go even somewhat as planned. Seeing crooks/thieves turn on each other is one thing, but what about when your partners in crime are your family members? What would a grandfather do when his son or grandson are in trouble or vice versa? Are you more prone to risk everything because it's your flesh and blood under the gun? I love heist movies -- always have, always will -- but in 'Family' Lumet adds that family element that gives the story a unique edge. It becomes more emotional and more effective.

Most of my reasoning for checking 'Family' out was the casting. My first thought was that Connery and Hoffman were odd choices to play father and son (there's only 7 years age difference), but once you get past the fact they look nothing alike, it's not a deal-breaker. The three generation heist crew is a cool little plot device, young Adam looking up to his crook of a grandfather while holding resentment for his father for giving him everything he ever needed. The performances are uniformly good, allowing me at least to look past the names and see the characters. Connery is the flashiest, and he doesn't disappoint, a long-time crook encouraging his grandson to do what he wants, not what he's been told to do. Hoffman is the most effective, a father torn by his own past that he gave up, accepting a vastly different life than the one he figured. Broderick is solid as Adam, the least likable of the three. It's hard to get behind the character, who comes across as a spoiled brat. The dynamic among the three -- physical appearances aside -- is what works so well.

All of that laid out, I didn't love the movie. I think it struggles to find a right balance between comedy and drama. It never out and out tries to be a laugh out loud comedy, but the tone is all over the place. Some attempts at comedy -- two gags during the heist -- work well, but it does a complete 180 degree turn afterward and hits you with the heavy drama. All the dialogue does get a little much as the 113-minute movie starts to lag in the second half right when it should be picking up steam. I can't put my finger on it. 'Family' is missing that one element that would bring it all together. It is still a solid, very watchable movie, but not one I feel the need to revisit anytime soon.

Family Business <---trailer (1989): ** 1/2 /****


  1. Man, I haven't even heard of this one.

    Lumet has a surprisingly diverse filmography. I caught Equus earlier this week and was surprised to see Lumet directed it. A high-toned English psychodrama is not something you'd associate him with. I have read many bad reviews of A Stranger Among Us, which appears to be a lame pastiche of Witness; that may be Lumet's stinker.

  2. That's what I found looking through his list of films. His classics are obviously well-known, but he's got some hidden gems in there too.