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City by the Sea

Is Robert De Niro going through a mid-life crisis? De Niro used to stand for everything great about '70s filmmaking, with his no-holds-barred portraits of sometimes insane men who were impossible to ignore. He shaped an entire generation of actors and forged an American ideal of an actor who worked in total synchronization with a favorite director. But his last film for Martin Scorsese was in 1995 (Casino), and the body of De Niro's work has since become concerned with doing generic comedies and kids films. And though there have been some gems since, Bobby seems to have lost his fool mind, and — between watching his 2001 film The Score and 2002's City by the Sea — one gets the sense that he doesn't like growing older either. Here he plays Det. Vincent La Marca, a cop who finds out that his son Joey (James Franco) has been involved in a murder. Such gets more complicated when Joey becomes the prime suspect in his partner's death, though it was the poorly mulleted drug dealer Spyder (William Forsythe) behind that killing, and now Spyder's gunning for Joey. Since Vincent was the son of a convicted murderer, he now has to face the possibility that Joey has followed in his grandfather's footsteps. City by the Sea is about how Vincent didn't do a good job of raising his kid, which his shrew ex-wife (Patti LuPone) seems to have kept from him. But then, instead of making Vincent a deeply flawed character, De Niro gives what could be the laziest and least-interesting performance of his career (though 2002 was a banner year for bad De Niro, with this, Showtime, Analyze That, and his cue-card-stained Saturday Night Live gig). This is made all the more regrettable considering that James Franco's performance as Joey actually makes one believe that this Hollywood pretty boy is a strung-out loser (unlike Eliza Dushku, who is thoroughly unconvincing as his reformed girlfriend). His character is fascinating, the kind De Niro would have been great at in his prime. But Joey is relegated to the background after the first half-hour to make way for De Niro and his commitment issue with his new love interest (Frances McDormand), which is supposed to signify something important about his relationship with his son. In perfect baby-boomer fashion, City by the Sea becomes about how everything is solipsiticly about Vincent: It seems Joey became a drug addict because Vincent didn't go to his football games; when the story finally gets to his teary-eyed speech to his son, it seems that everything once great about De Niro has been forgotten. Warner Brothers' DVD release of City by the Sea is separately available in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and pan-and-scan versions. Both feature Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras consist of an audio commentary by producer Mathew Baer and screenwriter Ken Hixon, a featurette entitled Six Words about Filmmaking with Michael Caton-Jones, and the theatrical trailer. Snap-case.

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