It has been said that two wrongs can make a right. Apparently, the opposite is also true. City by the Sea attempts a seemingly fool-proof formula that many have failed to make work before.
The combination of two Academy Award winning actors, Robert DeNiro and Frances McDormand, could not provide enough star power to save this newly disguised and rehashed cop-drama plotline. DeNiro plays Vincent LaMarca, a good cop who has left the bad memories of his father’s execution behind him only to run face first into the investigation of a murder involving his drug-addict son, Joey (James Franco).
Vincent is assigned to what seems is just another case of a murdered drug-dealer. But when the suspect’s accomplice comes forward to avoid a similar fate at the hands of the drug dealer’s boss, his description reveals that Vincent’s son is the killer. And after the slaying of a fellow officer is placed on Joey, Vincent must choose between being a cop and a father.
This forgettable tale is similarly equipped with less-than-memorable performances. DeNiro seems disinterested in his part while McDormand has only a handful of scenes in a meaningless role as Vincent’s lover, Michelle.
William Forsythe, however, provides unintentional cheesy humor in the way of his character – the mullet-laden, obligatory drug-dealing biker, Spyder (yes, I said Spyder).
The only saving grace of this film – and its deeply mundane and overly predictable plot – is the scenery. The director, Michael Caton-Jones, uses the film’s Long Beach, New York location to its full extent. He contrasts the early paradise-esque atmosphere of the town in its birth with its current withering shell of its former self.
A run-down casino and amusement park flank the cresting waves over a shore of rolling rocks and seemingly endless beach. The winter setting of the movie provides the beach atmosphere with an appropriate murky and desolate air of self-pity, which mirrors each of the film’s characters.
This aspect of the film eventually comes across as an old hat, though, as a result of persistent references to the film’s title and overly stressing the symbolism between the setting and the film’s meaning. Some scenes in this movie lay the symbolism on so thick that it’s hard to swallow your popcorn.
For example, when Joey realizes that his dream of fleeing to Key West (the spitting image of early Long Beach) is dwindling, he lets his handfuls of Long Beach sand bury his map of the aforementioned location of his desires.
And the fact that DeNiro is once again forced to take on the unwanted position of a parent, only this time with his grandson when Joey’s girlfriend leaves him with the baby – well, that is a bit over the melodramatic edge.
In the end, however, even a last-gasp dose of DeNiro’s trademark emanation of the emotional monsoon that is Bob’s artistry cannot ignite the utterly diminished wick of this melted movie candle that is City by the Sea.
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