23 August 2006 | A_Roode
Gritty performances are the highlight.
2002's 'City By the Sea' was a film that slipped by me when it first came out. I was living overseas and missed it completely. Having finally had a chance to watch it, I think it is the best film that Robert DeNiro has been in since 'Ronin' and up to 2006, his last great dramatic performance. He stars in 'City By the Sea' as the absentee father of James Franco. DeNiro is a decorated homicide cop who, while investigating a murder, finds uncomfortable evidence that concretely links his son to the murder. The film becomes a redemptive tale as DeNiro's character tries to make up for the damage of the lost years and save his son from a series of rapidly expanding catastrophes.
'City By the Sea' borrows from the noir tradition with a gritty locale, seedy characters and two male leads who have unlocked a series of events that are bigger than they are. DeNiro and Franco are both excellent here. Franco is tremendous for the entire film as a junkie who is trying (perhaps not very hard) to escape from his current life for one mixed of fantasy and memory. His final scenes with De Niro are powerful.
The DeNiro performance? I think that he played it perfectly. His character in the film tends to be very restrained and controlled. He analyzes and then makes his move. Part of this has to do with the background of the character. He hides his past because he's trying to protect his own vulnerabilities. By the time we reach the climactic scene towards the end of the film with his son, the restraint and control are gone. He is trying to save his son and the impassioned speech he gives is some of the best work I've seen him do. 'City By the Sea' is more of a redemptive drama than a crime drama and I think that the way the film was packaged and marketed may have confused that. In the climactic scene with Franco, you see the culmination of a great performance by a great actor. I was more impressed by the emotion and power of that scene than I was by anything else I've watched in quite a while.
'City By the Sea' is slow, but worth the journey. Very good acting all around and you might very well be a James Franco fan after seeing this if you weren't before.