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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Family Business (1989)

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

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: May 19, 2003

Stars: Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick
Other Stars: Rosana DeSoto, Victoria Jackson, Deborah Rush
Director: Sidney Lumet

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: R for (language and some violence)
Run Time: 01h:53m:42s
Release Date: May 20, 2003
UPC: 043396100503
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ CB-B- D-

DVD Review

In Family Business, Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, and Sean Connery play three generations of a family of thieves. The youngest, Adam (Broderick), has just quit his graduate program at MIT, abandoning the life of a scientist in favor of a scheme to steal and sell research material that will net him a million dollar payday. He needs two guys to help him pull off the job, and the two most likely candidates are his grandfather Jessie (Connery), a career criminal, and his father Vito (Hoffman), who did time in the past and blames most of his problems on his criminal father.

The title is a pun; the "family business" has as much to do with thievery as it does with the strained relationships between fathers and sons. Adam feels like Vito has never really understood him, and has never tried to see him as anything more than the perfect student on his way to a PhD. Jessie and Vito are estranged because Vito feels that he can't trust the old man to go a week without committing a crime.

Any truly successful heist movie isn't just about the crime—believable character interaction and motivation are just as important—and while Family Business does a good job of establishing familial conflict, it doesn't concentrate nearly enough on the actual crime, or the fallout thereof after Adam is captured red-handed and charged with a crime that could keep him in jail until just shy of his 40th birthday. Without giving too much away, Jessie tracks down the man who set Adam up with the job and discovers some very interesting information about the stolen research samples; information that would probably help to get Adam released. He does nothing with it, because it would impact the dramatic arc of Vito and Jessie's relationship, but once evidence is uncovered that would be useful in the courtroom, we expect to see it actually used. Otherwise, why include the scene at all?

That isn't the only instance of logical storytelling being sacrificed so that the film can present a unified theme, but it is the most glaring. I don't know how the script could have better balanced the robbery and the generational conflicts, but it certainly doesn't work as is. Sidney Lumet's languorous direction is no help, and the prolonged scenes are sapped of what little humor they possess.

On the other hand, this is a movie starring two of Hollywood's most enduring actors, and Connery and Hoffman, though only separated in age by seven years, have a convincing, prickly chemistry as father and son. Matthew Broderick isn't bad either, but he's a little too sincere—he has never been as comfortable as an actor as he was in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. If you can ignore all the dangling plot threads and enjoy the film as simple drama, the actors will likely keep you entertained. Just don't be confused by the cover's promise of a light-hearted, comedic caper. Crime doesn't pay, and the crime in this movie certainly has no payoff.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer starts off problematically, showing a significant amount of grain, dirt, and scratches, but things clear up considerably once the credits are over. Colors are crisp and natural. Black level is fair, though darker scenes are lacking in shadow detail and tend to look rather muddy. I noticed some minor edge enhancement and some aliasing, but nothing too distracting. Not bad for a catalog title.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: This front-heavy 2.0 track presents a decent, but unimaginative, mix. The mains handle most of the action, though dialogue comes through strongly from the center. The score widens out the soundfield, but fidelity is lacking, resulting in some harsh high tones. There is some directionality across the front soundstage, but little in the way of panning effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Replacement Killers, Donnie Brasco
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only featured extra is the trailer, though spots for the totally unrelated The Replacement Killers and Donnie Brasco are also included.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Family Business is an uneven crime caper/drama blessed with a wonderful cast and cursed with a dull, meandering screenplay. It's worth watching once, but I wouldn't recommend the overpriced, bare-bones DVD to anyone who wasn't already a fan.


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