City by the Sea – Robert De Niro week

This week we are covering films starring Robert De Niro. Netflix has City by the Sea currently available on instant play.

City by the Sea

WATCH: City by the Sea (2002) – Rated R for language, dug use, and some violence.

“Vincent LaMarca (Robert De Niro) is an NYPD police detective whose father was executed at Sing Sing Prison in the 1950s for kidnapping and murdering a child. Now, while investigating the murder of a surfer on Long Beach, Vincent discovers that his own son, Joey (James Franco), is the primary suspect. Even as he’s grappling with the shocking news, he also must deal with the media, which quickly swoops in on the case. Frances McDormand also stars.”

The brief description of the plot would make you think that this is a mystery or police procedural but it is really a character study. All the main characters are lonely, wounded and unwilling to accept responsibility. The plot is really just a framework to hang this on.

Robert De Niro is wonderful here as a detective suffering from and continuing to make bad choices. James Franco is quite good as his estranged drug addict son. Our requisite villain/plot device, Spyder, is played to gravelly menace by William Forsythe. One of my favorite actresses, Frances McDormand is vulnerable as De Niro’s girlfriend who finds that she really doesn’t know him very well.

At one point a character comments on some cash found on a corpse. They mention the small wad consists of mostly ones and fives with a few twenties. They also mention the wad must be three or four thousand dollars. This doesn’t make any sense. In fact if it is comprised of mostly ones and fives, the wad would be lucky to break three or four hundred dollars. It’s a silly goof but it’s annoying as the cash is an important plot point.

There is a little too much deus ex machina in the third act to bring about the dramatic conclusion but the first two-thirds are believable and heartfelt. In truth they could easily have jettisoned the Spyder portions and had more time for character study. Having written that, I still recommend this as worth a watch for De Niro’s and Franco’s performances.

On a side note, one of the best movies I’ve seen on the subject of family and addiction is Requiem for a Dream and is available on disc from Netflix.

People Watch: Look for Joss Whedon regular Eliza Dushku as Gina.