Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – Family Business (1989)

by RICHARD WINTERS

Any movie that casts Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman, and Mathew Broderick as a father, son, and grandson team of robbers has me hooked before I have even seen the first frame. It was a great bit of inspired casting, even if Connery was was only seven years older than his “son” Hoffman. Throw in the fact that it was directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet and you should have had a sure fire winner.

The story involves the grandfather, Jessie (Connery), getting out of jail and trying to rekindle relations with both his son Vito (Hoffman) and grandson Adam (Broderick). Vito wants nothing to do with his father as he has done time himself by getting mixed up in some of his father’s old schemes and is now trying to go straight by working as a manager at a meat packing facility. However, Adam, who is going to college and has a promising career ahead of him, idolizes his grandfather and relishes the idea of pulling off a robbery himself. He has even come up with one that all three of them can do together. The robbery is unique in that they aren’t stealing from a bank, jewelry store, home of someone rich, or even a priceless artifact at a museum, but instead some important research materials at a science lab.

The crime itself is not elaborate and could have easily been pulled off by just one person. I was anticipating something a little more daring and exciting, especially since Jessie and Vito were career criminals. It also takes too long to get to the robbery. The first fifty minutes are basically spent with the three of them endlessly arguing and rehashing the same old points.

The second part of the film is a little more interesting as it deals with Adam getting caught while the other two are able to get away and all the dilemmas that they then face. However, even here the drama becomes strained and talky. The ending fizzles and has no emotional impact. I saw a lot of similarities between this film and Lumet’s last film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Both of these movies deal with robberies and the consequences of family members betraying one another and yet that film was far more gripping.

I thought Connery was highly engaging and would have enjoyed seeing him take over the whole picture. Hoffman gives a solid dramatic performance, but his character is blah.

The Adam character got on my nerves. He had been given everything and yet refuses to appreciate it and seems almost ungrateful to his father for working so hard to give him a better life. He acts cocky about going through with the robbery and yet when they get there he is ill-prepared and confused. I understand sometimes people become curious about those that live a different lifestyle than they do and that they don’t fully understand, but I still felt there needed to be a little more balance. I just didn’t understand why this kid would want to throw it all away just so he could be like his career criminal grandfather.

The music score is another problem. It has a big band, show tune type sound which might have worked for a Broadway production, but here it seems completely out-of-sync with the mood and tone of the story.

There are also some points where the films loses credibility. One is the fact that they discuss plans of the robbery in a lot of public places, which seemed just plain careless to me especially since these were “professional” thieves. One discussion takes place at a bar, another on a busy sidewalk with pedestrians going by, and the third at a funeral with mourners standing right behind them. There is also the fact that they park their car on the side of the road in front of the lab and put a sign in the windshield stating that they are out of gas and will be back in one hour. I thought this seemed dumb because a policeman could come by and do a check on the license plate to find out the owner. Then, the next day when the robbery is reported, they would only have to put the two together to trace the culprits. There is also a scene were Vito fires one of his employees at his plant for stealing. He punches him violently in his office that is surrounded by windows and is in full view of the other workers. The man leaves with a broken nose and bloodied face, but the workers do not react and go on with their tasks like nothing happened, which simply isn’t believable.

The film does give one a good taste of New York. I liked how it showed the different neighborhoods and boroughs. Not only do we get a good feel of the Bronx, but we also see Flushing, Brooklyn, and downtown Manhattan. Most films that take place in the Big Apple seem to concentrate in only one section of it while this one tried to give a broader feel. The indoor sets are nicely realized. Everything from the trashed halls of the prison to Vito’s modernistic, sleek apartment, to the science lab and even Jessie’s small, cramped apartment looked authentic and distinct.

Although competently done this film still seems like a misfire because the material isn’t diverting, or interesting enough for the caliber of the cast. I was expecting a little more razzle-dazzle and a lot more action and excitement. I almost felt that if this same story had been approached in a comic vein it might have worked better.

My Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

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Last Time on Rewind: Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963)
Coming Up Next: Movie Movie (1978)

One response to “Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – Family Business (1989)

  1. I’d recently watched this film within the last year, for the first time, and also thought it to be around a 4/10. Decent performances and a nice cast but that’s about it.

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