City By The Sea

City By The Sea

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Say what you will about Robert De Niro - slave to mannerisms, caricature of himself, awkward in comedy - there can be no doubt that when he puts his mind to it, he delivers. Critics complain of laziness, which is shorthand for "he likes to plays cops and mobsters." Can you imagine him as CEO of Enron in The Greatest Wall Street Swindle?

He's a cop here. And an absent father. His face has weathered well. There isn't an insensitive bone in his body. Every movement, every expression, conveys meaning. He's been at the cookie jar again, not like in Raging Bull when he pigged out on pasta to fuel the flab for the post champ La Motta, but comfortably chunky; Travis Bickle would call him "a pork chop".

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The city by the sea is Long Island, once the playpen for New York socialites. "Now it looks like the Serbian army came through," Vincent (De Niro) says. He's back in the old haunts, investigating the murder of a drug dealer. He comes with baggage; his father was electrocuted at Sing Sing when he was eight for kidnapping a baby and allowing it to suffocate in the back of a car; his marriage broke apart acrimoniously, if not violently, and he never stayed in touch with their son Joey (James Franco). Now the kid is prime suspect in a murder case, forcing Vincent to face painful truths about his failure as a parent.

The thriller element is compromised by pot noodle psychology. Would Joey have become a junkie if daddy hadn't run out on him? Would Vincent be less of a workaholic if he didn't have to prove that the son of a child murderer can be a good cop? Would Vincent's liaison with the woman two floors down (Frances McDormand) have a future if he wasn't so afraid of commitment? Why is life like Long Beach, better as a memory than a fact?

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones, a Scot, the gritty edge to the movie does not ape Scorsese, rather uses scummy locations as urban decoration to what is a sentimental story of love and death. When Joey's own son is dumped on grandad by his dysfunctional young mother (Eliza Dushku), the emotional pressure rises to a level where resistance melts.

There is a scene at the end when Vincent attempts to persuade Joey not to throw his life away that demonstrates De Niro's supreme skill as an actor. Without him, City By The Sea would slip under the waves. He drags it back, single-handed, with sympathetic support from McDormand, who deserves more screen time, and a self-consciously nervy performance from Franco.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2003
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Robert De Niro plays a Long Island cop investigating a murder in which his son is prime suspect.
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Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Writer: Ken Hixon, based on a magazine article by Mike McAlary

Starring: Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand, James Franco, Eliza Dushku, William Forsythe, George Dzundza, Patti Lupone

Year: 2002

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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