CITY BY THE SEA
Born and bred at Long Beach – City by the Sea - homicide detective Vincent LaMarca (Robert De Niro) has divorced and left for New York, where he has made a name for himself in law enforcement. But when he’s faced with a murder in which his own estranged, drug addict son, Joey (James Franco) is a prime suspect, he is confronted with tough choices. When he reveals his troubles to his girlfriend Michelle (Frances McDormand) she’s not sure how to take it all. His closest friend is his partner, Reg (George Dzundza), and when Reggie is shot, Joey is again the prime suspect.
Review by Louise Keller:
It starts off as a routine police crime drama, but City by the Sea quickly crosses the line into something far more personal, an engrossing and powerful conflict of a man torn between his work and the life he has chosen to forget. Yes, Robert De Niro has played cops before, but this character is somewhat different, because he strips naked emotionally. It’s a brilliant performance by De Niro, and the revelation is gradual, as we slowly get to know more about him and the past he is keen to forget. Vincent is a man whose self-esteem comes with the job: it is the respect he has earned in the course of duty that has allowed him to build up his own self-respect. He lives simply. He comes home each night, drinks a beer at his simple wooden table, goes to bed or visits his girlfriend who is waiting for him one floor below. Frances McDormand is a credible choice and her scenes with De Niro work their magic through their shared maturity and often unstated understanding. There’s no disputing it’s a convenient arrangement, and when he meets Michelle once during the day, she comments ‘I’m not used to seeing you in daylight’. But there’s much that’s kept in the shadows: Vincent hasn’t felt able to reveal anything personal about himself during the year that they have been in a relationship. Then Vincent’s whole emotional being unravels, like a yo-yo that has suddenly been taken off the leash, impacting on his work, his relationship and his self control. The title may refer to Long Beach, whose painful memories are instrumental in keeping Vincent away, but it could also refer to the emotional turbulence surrounding the façade of the man. City by the Sea is a story about responsibility, and what responsibility you can and can’t take for other people’s actions. There’s no glossing over the pain Vincent faces as he is confronted with the evolving situation concerning his son, and as the film reaches is explosive climax, the emotional pay off is profound. James Franco, who made a name for himself winning a Golden Globe Award as James Dean, effectively portrays the troubled young man, dreaming of a fresh start. Joey’s character may not have a wide range, but Franco is credible as the down-and-out junkie. I also enjoyed Eliza Dushku’s Gina, who is at cracking point. But this is De Niro’s film, and he makes the most of every moment. City by the Sea is an emotional powerhouse that takes us on a satisfying journey, making us realise that while you can’t change the past, you can certainly make a dent in the future.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The one way you can tell that this story (inspired by actual events as it is) is not really contemporary is that Detective LaMarca (DeNiro) is allowed to continue working on a murder case in which his son is a suspect. That would never do today. An early clue to the real setting of this story can be found in the opening credits under a nostalgia-bronzed shot of Long Beach, the City by the Sea south of Manhattan, in the late 40s or early 50s. This was the period of LaMarca’s toddlerhood. But let me not get bogged down in this aspect of the film, because the real story is not the what of it historically, but the how of it emotionally. The how of it being about LaMarca as a father who leaves his wife and little son many years earlier, the cop unable to cope. He himself is the son of a good man who was driven to desperation and was eventually executed for murder, though the jury should still be out on that, according to the film. Excited by the sheer extraordinary elements of the real story, the filmmakers are tempted to sensationalise it even further. So what we have here is a star vehicle combined with a moral dilemma and turned into a thriller, to give it a good commercial boost. The result is a slightly over-stated case, but that’s what mainstream American cinema does best. The emotional-psychological story of the characters is far more complex than the film can accommodate, even though it attempts to cover the ground, and Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones makes a good fist of holding on to the issues. He is battling a system that always tries to simplify things to banalities. And I don’t mean to sound mean; I did find the film engaging and stimulating and exciting, but that came from the terrific performances and the direction, rather than the treatment. Caton-Jones does a great job of creating symbolism in the now abandoned, derelict City by the Sea: the past and the present are in conflict through the central characters, and the physical dilapidation of the place is a recognisable metaphor for the troubles of Vincent and Joey. The power of that metaphor and the aching reality of the performances lift the film above its genre class.
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CITY BY BY THE SEA (M15+)
CAST: Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand, James Franco, Eliza Dushku, William Forsythe, George Dzundza
PRODUCER: Brad Grey, Elie Samaha, Michael Caton-Jones, Matthew Baer
DIRECTOR: Michael Caton-Jones
SCRIPT: Ken Hixon (Based on an article called Mark of a Murderer by Michael McAlary)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Karl Walter Lindenlaun ASC
EDITOR: Jim Clark
MUSIC: John Murphy
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jane Musky
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 6, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: July 16, 2003