Reviewed by: Megan Basham
Starring: Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand, James Franco, Eliza Dushku, William Forsythe | Directed by: Michael Caton-Jones | Produced by: Brad Grey, Elie Samaha, Michael Caton-Jones, Matthew Baer | Written by: Ken Hixon | Distributor: Warner Brothers
A lot of hype developed around this movie as Tinsel Town eagerly anticipated Robert De Niro’s latest pet project. Unfortunately, while the passion DeNiro invests in the film is obvious, it doesn’t live up to its expectations.
“City by the Sea” tells the story of aging cop Vincent LaMarca (Robert De Niro) who, after having divorced his wife and abandoned his son twenty years before, has to come to terms with the turmoil his absence has wrought. His son Joey, now 28, is a heroin addict whose hazy, haphazard life mixes him up in a murder. When Joey comes to his father looking not so much for help as a relationship, Vincent has the chance to make another choice about what’s more important to him—being a cop or being a father.
Despite the foul language that almost inevitably accompanies these types of films, “City by the Sea” explores some valuable themes. For one thing, James Franco as junkie Joey LaMarca gives one of the most honest performances of someone struggling with drug addiction ever filmed. Usually, movies that profess to be about the dangers of addiction begin by showing how glamorous and exciting excess can be. They end, of course, with one of two outcomes: Either the person dies young having wasted his potential and becomes worthy of legendary status; or he finally gets his life together, overcomes his dependencies and is thus wiser than the common folk, with great stories to tell besides. Franco’s junkie draws on none of these deceitful movie formulas. There is nothing seductive or thrilling about his drug use. Nothing, from his pathetic obsession with his high school football glories to his wretched need for someone to believe him, will make anyone feel like they’re missing out by living a godly life.
However, though I was moved by this aspect of the movie, the rest left me disconnected. Because it addresses the question of what can happen to boys who grow up without fathers, I really wanted to like this movie, but the story was so slow and complicated, it didn’t really hold my attention. Robert De Niro makes some daring, emotional leaps with his acting, but just when he’s really drawing us in, the film veers into a direction we care less about. An unnecessary side-plot about DeNiro’s father being a convicted murderer adds nothing to the emotional impact of the film and actually cheapens it by coming across as overly-neat and clichéd.
“City by the Sea” is not a bad movie, but that in itself is too bad because, with a little more focus, it could have been a great one.