City By The Sea

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Review byMatthew Turner9/01/2003

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 108 mins

Decent thriller with DeNiro on good form for once and a star-making turn from up and comer James Franco.

Judging by the quality of his recent films (15 Minutes, Rocky & Bullwinkle etc), it seems hard to believe that DeNiro was once considered one of America’s finest actors – lately he’s been content to take ‘tongue in cheek’ comedy roles (Meet The Parents, Analyze This, both of which have imminent sequels) or deliver lazy performances in deeply average films.

For City By The Sea, however, he’s been persuaded to make a bit more of an effort and the result is his best performance in Quite Some Time.

Roots In Reality

Based on a true story (from an article in Esquire), the film stars DeNiro as Vincent La Marca, a cop who has distanced himself from his shameful past (his Dad was a convicted child murderer, he assaulted his wife and deserted his family 14 years previously) and is trying to make a go of his relationship with new girlfriend Michelle (Frances McDormand).

These efforts are severely hampered, however, when DeNiro’s estranged son Joey (James Franco) becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation – not least because La Marca hasn’t actually told Michelle that he has a son.

The ‘City’ of the title refers to Long Beach – a beachside community near Manhattan that was once thriving and is now run-down and desolate. As such, the film benefits considerably from some great location work that conveys the bleakness of Franco’s predicament.

Echoes Of James Dean

The acting is superb – DeNiro gives a surprisingly moving performance, particularly during the final scenes. Similarly, Franco (a rising star thanks to Spider-Man and his work on cult TV show Freaks & Geeks) gives a star-making performance in which it’s hard not to see echoes of James Dean. (Fittingly the actor has already played Dean in a TV movie). At any rate, he holds his own against DeNiro and their scenes together are definite highlights.

There’s also strong support from the always-reliable Frances McDormand (though she’s not given all that much to do) and from Eliza Dushku (Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), as Joey’s on/off girlfriend.

The film isn’t entirely flawless – one scene in particular, with DeNiro telling McDormand about his past, provokes (surely) unintentional giggles that disrupt the tone of both the film and the scene.

On another note, typecasting fans may be pleased to see the return of George Dzunda (Basic Instinct) as The Fat Partner Who Gets Killed. In short, City By The Sea succeeds on the strength of its performances – it’s not a great film by any means, but it’s an above-average, intelligent and moving thriller that’s worth seeking out.

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Content updated: 18/02/2020 23:47

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