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Case Number 02966: Small Claims Court

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Family Business

Sony // 1989 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 5th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

There's nothing like a good robbery to bring a family together.

The Case

For Irish born Jessie McMullen (Sean Connery, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), his son Vito (Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man), and Vito's son Adam (Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller's Day Off), the family business is crime—and they're about to learn that it doesn't always pay. Jessie is a seasoned criminal who's spent years heading in and out of prison. Vito has also lead a life of crime, though he's attempted to go straight by working in the meat packing industry, as to give his son/Jessie's grandson a better—and respectable—life. Though Adam graduated college and has all the qualities to be a success in the business world, he finds himself drawn to crime—particularly an opportunity to make a cool million for stealing some top secret vials for an upcoming scientific breakthrough. Because he's never done anything illegal, Adam enlists the help of his grandfather, Jessie, and also requests help from his father to break into the lab where the vials are being stored. At first Vito refuses, forbidding Adam to partake in any criminal activity. However, Adam's stubbornness leaves Vito with no choice but to go along with the burglary, making sure that Adam doesn't get caught. Together Jessie, Vito, and Adam will learn blood is thicker than water when it comes to working in the Family Business.

Sidney Lumet's Family Business wants to have its cake and eat it too—is it a crime caper, a genial comedy, or a relational drama? It's a little bit of everything, yet none of the pieces quite come together in the end. To be sure, Family Business features a fantastic cast of top Hollywood talent: Connery and Hoffman are multiple Oscar winners and Matthew Broderick is one of the best comedic actors of his generation. So what went wrong so with Family Business? It could be that the script by Vincent Patrick (based on his novel) tends to sway in too many directions at too many points during its run time. Just when you think it's going to fall back into a clever comedy, drama ensues. By the time you assume you're in for a dramatic story, a crime caper begins. Then we're back to the comedy again. It's all a bit too schizophrenic, which in turn makes for a very disjointed watch.

Though the end product is unsatisfying, there are many wonderfully quirky moments to enjoy in Family Business. Connery's character Jessie is the most fleshed out of the bunch. He knows that a life of crime is what he's meant to do, and doesn't make any excuses for his chosen profession. On the other hand, Hoffman's Vito grapples with his enjoyment of crime and his desire to keep on the straight and narrow for the sake of his family. Conversely, Broderick's character has always stayed out of trouble and as such, finds himself drawn into a life of burglary—the thrill of danger runs through his blood. These characters and their complexities would have worked much better had they been placed into a better screenplay. Connery and Hoffman work well together, especially when Connery's character tells the story of a midget, some Vaseline, and a long corridor of air ducts (don't ask, just see the movie). There's chemistry between the actors, just not the screenwriter and his pen. Though Family Business is far from a career low point for director Lumet (including the Paul Newman vehicle The Verdict and the fantastic Network), he's done much better work that's worth checking out before this mediocre effort.

Family Business is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen with anamorphic enhancement. This transfer appears to be in decent condition, though it's in no way exceptional. The colors and black levels are all solid and dark but the image lacks crispness in comparison to many other transfer from the late 1980s. A small amount of grain and edge enhancement is present, though it's never intrusive to the viewing. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English. Much like the transfer, this sound mix isn't anything to write home about. Directional effects and surround sounds are floating at the bare minimum with the bulk of this mix focused in the front and center speakers and is free of excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles.

The only extra features Columbia has seen fit to include on this disc are theatrical trailers for Family Business, the Al Pacino / Johnny Depp film Donnie Brasco, and the action dud The Replacement Killers. What a crime!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 74

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
• French
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Crime

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailers


• IMDb

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