While City By the Sea probably won’t break box office records or bring home any Oscars, this movie is surprisingly spectacular. Given an impressive cast list, one might expect no less. But its not the big names that make this worth seeing, it’s the little guys.
The film tells the story of a well-respected homicide detective Vincent LaMarca (Robert DeNiro) and the difficulties he faces after discovering his son is the chief suspect in his current murder investigation. LaMarca’s son Joey (James Franco) is accused of killing his drug dealer while defending himself in a knife fight.
LaMarca walked out on Joey and his wife after a violent dispute when Joey was a child. Once the murder investigation begins, Vincent must balance his obligations as an officer and also that of a father. Vincent puts his career and life on the line to protect his son and in turn confronts his difficult past.
While the film offered a stellar cast of talented performers, James Franco stole the show. Franco recently won the Golden Globe for best actor for his performance in the title role of the TNT’s movie James Dean. His character in City was gritty, emotional, passionate, and endearing. Coming from his successful role as Harry Osborne in Spiderman, we soon realize that his role as Osborne did no justice to his range as an actor. While he could have just played a kid with a drug addiction, Franco deliverers his character in courses – within each a riddle and packaged together into a delightful performance.
Despite a star-studded cast of veteran talent Franco truly surpasses all expectations. DeNiro, who changed film forever with his roles in Godfather 2 and Goodfellas, was far less impressive in City. While treated to cutting edge dialogue and talented filmwork, DeNiro was quite lifeless in his portrayal of Vincent LaMarca. If not for the slick writing of Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Mike McAlary, DeNiro’s character would have been worse than the stable mediocre performance it was.
Frances McDormand, whom many remember for her Oscar winning performance in the acclaimed film Fargo, performed a pretty underdeveloped character as DeNiro’s girlfriend. The only thing really lacking in the script was a better sense of her relationship and love affair with DeNiro.
The direction under Michael Caton-Jones was strong with clever film work and imaginative cinematography. City by the Sea is definitely a film to see this fall. Franco’s performance alone justifies the trip.