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City by the Sea (2002)
City by the Sea is a 2002 film starring Robert De Niro, James Franco, Eliza Dushku, Frances McDormand and William Forsythe. It deals with the family problems of a wayward youth and is set against a man trying to break free of his past. It was directed by Michael Caton-Jones. It is based on the story of Vincent LaMarca. Vincent LaMarca (Robert De Niro) is a veteran street cop and the son of an executed killer. While his father did not intend to kill the child he kidnapped, the son reaps the reputation anyway and decides to be so good that he is beyond reproach. Meanwhile, his own son Joey LaMarca (James Franco), a drug user with fading memories of athletic high school glory, gets wrapped up in a drug-related killing and, with no other choice, asks his estranged father for help. Joey suddenly comes to the attention of Vincent's current girlfriend Michelle (Frances McDormand), who asks Vincent why he is not going to help his son. Vincent has tried so hard to distance himself from his past that he cannot accept any intrusion into his contentment.
City by the Sea is inspired by the true events surrounding the life of New York City Homicide Detective Vincent LaMarca. A veteran of the police force, LaMarca (Robert De Niro) returns to the boardwalks of Long Beach, Long Island (a.k.a. City by the Sea), where he grew up, to investigate a homicide that his son Joey (James Franco) is under suspicion of committing. Vincent and Joey have been estranged since Vincent divorced his wife (Patti LuPone) 14 years ago. As a result, Joey has fallen into the pitfalls of drugs and vagrancy. When a drug deal goes bad, and Joey kills the dealer in the ensuing struggle, he becomes the target of many overzealous police officers who want to charge him with the crime. Joey is also the target for another drug dealer (William Forsythe) who wants the drug money he thinks Joey stole.
In all, City by the Sea is about taking responsibilities for one's actions. During his personal investigation, Vincent must confront his own painful past where numerous rash decisions have caused his son's disastrous downfall. He has always kept hidden these deeper life secrets, even from his current love Michelle (Frances McDormand). Now, Joey must face up to the penalties of his crime. But, like his father, he refuses to accept the consequences for his actions. 'It wasn't the real me who killed that guy,' Joey admits to Vincent. This same sentiment mirrors an earlier conversation Vincent had with Michelle as he explains why he has never revealed his troubled past to her - 'because that was the old me,' he says. It's not difficult to see the parallels between the two men. As the saying goes, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
The only problem I had with City by the Sea was the sentimental overkill triggered by the constant repetition of its theme. If we didn't get the point with the connection between Vincent and son Joey, we saw it in the relationship between Vincent and his father. But, just for good measure, the same points are also made with Vincent and Michelle and then Vincent, Joey, and Joey's girlfriend Gina. Have I lost you yet? Supposedly, all the events in the film actually happened (though much has already been written regarding the validity of them) so there may be no basis for my complaint - it could have all transpired. And to director Michael Caton-Jones' credit, he refuses to embellish numerous events with meaningless subscripts that polish the jagged corners into happier resolutions.
Fiction or non-fiction, all of the performances are top-notch. De Niro is a standout as the conflicted father and police detective in a highly emotional and complex role. This is one of his strongest performances to date and one of the year's best. Franco meets the challenge of his role opposite De Niro by playing a younger version of his father as he too struggles to make the right life decisions regarding his crime and drug use. Also strong in this ensemble work is McDormand, whose love for Vincent pushes the limits of her commitment to him, and prompts equally difficult choices for her as a result.
City by the Sea is a painfully real look at the emotional toll years of faulty parenting can have on the relationships between fathers and sons as well as the innocent loved ones surrounding them. Though tough decisions must be made, there is also a glimmer of hope that owning up to such failings could ultimately lead to new, brighter beginnings.
Robbers and cops.