Volume 96, Issue 7
Tuesday, September 10, 2002

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De Niro attempts to save sinking City by the Sea

Gazette File Photo

SO YOUR ENDLESS COOLNESS WILL SEE US THROUGH THIS ONE TOO, RIGHT BOBBY? De Niro explains the meaning of a man's life to James Franco and Anson Mount in City by the Sea.

City by the Sea
Starring: Robert De Niro, James Franco, Frances McDormand, Eliza Dushku
Directed by: Michael Caton-Jones

By Mark Polishuk
Gazette Staff

Over the last few years, Robert De Niro has settled into a rut of playing, well, Robert De Niro. Thankfully, City by The Sea is different.

The man known for his legendary ability to disappear into characters has been limited to playing a series of tough guys in forgettable films like The Score or spoofing his own image in comedies like Showtime City. However, City by the Sea gives De Niro a more substantial character to chew on and the result is a performance that carries an otherwise average film.

De Niro plays Vincent LaMarca, a veteran New York cop who left his wife and son 14 years earlier and has virtually erased them from his life.

His son Joey (James Franco) has become a hopeless drug addict, fathering a son with another junkie, Gina (Eliza Dushku). Joey's life continues to spiral downward after he kills a small-time drug pusher in self-defense.

When another murder takes place, Joey finds himself as the prime suspect with an entire police force on his trail.

The basic premise of the film is strong: a cop is caught between his job and his son. Because City is loosely based on a true story, the aspects of the film dealing with police procedure are realistically slow-paced. There are a few clichés, but the film is a refreshing change from most Hollywood cop movies.

The story is given additional depth by adding a history of violence within the LaMarca family – Vincent's father Angelo was a convicted murderer.

De Niro masterfully plays Vincent as a man who believes that people "make a choice" and must be punished for it, but secretly blames himself for being the cause of Joey's problems.

In addition to De Niro, City's supporting cast delivers strong performances.

James Franco, best known for his role as Harry Osborn in Spider-Man, makes Joey a sympathetic character who is not evil, but simply sick of his life. Eliza Dushku, as Gina, is perhaps the most tragic character in the film, as she and her infant son are the most direct victims of Joey's troubles.

The only poor character in the film is Spyder (William Forsythe), one of the most unintentionally hilarious villains in recent memory. Spyder is a drug dealer intent on killing Joey to avenge his dead pusher – his character is basically a surfer accent away from being a dead ringer for Snake on The Simpsons. A movie with the theme of ambiguous morality doesn't need a cartoonish villain who deflates the tension every time he appears.

Besides Spyder, City's major flaw is that director Michael Caton-Jones wants to make what is essentially a personal story about a shattered family into an epic crime drama like Michael Mann's Heat, another De Niro film.

Caton-Jones is trying to cram three hours of movie into 108 minutes and, therefore, several of the film's subplots aren't concluded, the most notable being Vincent's relationship with his girlfriend Michelle (Frances McDormand).

McDormand and De Niro have such excellent chemistry together that, while their relationship isn't the focus of the picture, the audience is still interested in finding out what happens between the two of them. She also provides additional insight into Vincent's character.

City by The Sea will not be remembered as one of De Niro's finest films, but at least it gives the actor a great opportunity to show he can still deliver the goods.

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