Past the Road to Perdition lies City by the Sea, Michael Caton-Jones’s equally rote tale of father-son friction. Very loosely based on a 1997 Esquire article titled “Mark of a Murder” by the late NYC Cop Land columnist Mike McAlary, Ken Hixon’s screenplay emphasizes, then reemphasizes, the distance between Queens cop Vincent LaMarca (Robert De Niro) and his junkie son Joey (James Franco). The effect is like a broken record. Dialogue from any given scene has been seemingly recycled from the same half dozen wails of filial chaos (“I’m not walking away,” “Don’t walk away from him again” and “He’s got nothing!” are on especially heavy rotation). Key events from the real life LaMarca’s life have been distorted to ensure optimum sympathy for the film’s otherwise fictional characters. Vinny’s estranged wife Linda (Patti LuPone, priceless in a dated green jumpsuit) damns her husband for leaving the family—in reality, Linda left her husband for another man and refused to let him see little Joey for 10 years. Creative liberties like these are to be expected but Hixon’s disingenuous experiment has nothing in mind besides an Afterschool Special-like warning to distant fathers. De Niro gets teary-eyed for a change while Frances McDormand bears the brunt of the script’s queasy comedic moments. A ghostly Franco is the standout here, elegantly wasted as a young man fighting to get clean despite a dilapidated milieu and a cloying family past that’d turn anyone to drugs. Though the film’s moody, retro-looking exteriors successfully evoke the decaying, impoverished section of New York’s Long Beach (a.k.a. “The City by the Sea”), it takes one O.J. reference to place the film’s events on a ’90s timeline.
Since 2001, we've brought you uncompromising, candid takes on the world of film, music, television, video games, theater, and more. Independently owned and operated publications like Slant have been hit hard in recent years, but we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or fees.
If you like what we do, please consider subscribing to our Patreon or making a donation.