Family Business Review

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Three generations of crooks decide to team up for a heist that, unsurprisingly, goes wrong. Can the all-male family hold together in the aftermath?


While Sean Connery and Dustin Hoffman playing father and son would appear to be one of the more preposterous wheezes dreamed up by an agent, their teaming here is a pleasant surprise, both funny and moving in this unusual family drama with a rich vein of humour.

Connery (who interestingly gets top billing) plays Jessie McMullen, an incorrigible crook of the old school, who maintains that his thieving is not immoral because he takes the risks and the retribution on the chin. He chums about with con men and cops alike and lives by a certain code, one of its tenets being “If you can’t serve the time, don’t do the crime”.

His exasperated, middle-aged “guinea dwarf” son Vito (Hoffman), whose disparities of physique and temperament are attributed to a Sicilian mother, has sought respectability since his unorthodox childhood and an early, cautionary spell in the slammer by becoming a straight arrow whose criminal genes are exercised cheating on his taxes.

Connecting the irreconcilable pair in an unexpected way is naive grandson Adam (Matthew Broderick) who, as children will, loves old Jessie and resents his father’s expectations of him. He plans a caper for the three of them, Vito reluctantly agrees to take part so he can look after the kid, and naturally the heist is not the piece of cake the boy imagined.

Vincent Patrick’s improbable, overlong but nevertheless entertaining story, adapted from his novel, is a classic example of intergenerational antagonism, rife with misunderstandings and regrets. Woven in is the apparent belief that almost everyone is some kind of crook, whether an upfront thief or a hypocrite like Adam’s property speculator girlfriend. This cynicism provides a string of amusing appallers and one-liners, from the hustler selling dodgy suits at a bent cop’s wake to the criminal lawyer who justifies her fee of 1500 dollars per day in court with the cry “That’s where my talent runs rampant!”

Connery’s outsized charm puts over a role that is not entirely likeable as a fundamentally selfish reprobate while Hoffman’s is a genuinely beautiful performance as a disappointed, distraught father who faces truths he doesn’t like about himself. As the middle man in crisis he is completely sympathetic, from the laughs in the first half of the film to his dramatic dilemma of the second half. Slices of New York life and family relationships are staples to director Lumet and he does a particularly admirable job in avoiding the cuteness or sickly sentimentality this material could have fallen into. The inherent difficulty he fails to overcome is the imbalance between the early comedic premise of the script and the folly and pain that ensues from the bungled burglary.

The three lead characters end the film as isolated as they began it. As with the plot, there isn't quite enough in the throwaway humour to hold them together.