Review: City by the Sea

Past the Road to Perdition lies City by the Sea, Michael Caton-Jones’s equally rote tale of father-son friction.

City by the Sea
Photo: Warner Bros.

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.

 Cast: Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand, James Franco, Eliza Dushku, William Forsythe, George Dzundza, Patti LuPone  Director: Michael Caton-Jones  Screenwriter: Ken Hixon  Distributor: Warner Bros.  Running Time: 108 min  Rating: R  Year: 2002  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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