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Lately, we’ve seen so much of Robert De Niro that confusion gets the better of us when deciding which of his films we should sit with. With quite a few contemporary catastrophes polluting his majestic resume, most of us are starting to question whether his divinity is approaching the end of its era. With a fairly quiet box-office run, we can validly question whether City By The Sea, Robert De Niro’s latest “cop” installment, is an underrated surprise, or is yet another example of today’s mediocre celluloid settlements.

The strand of years leading to homicide cop Vincent LaMarca’s current situation taught him to see his cases for how they are, pouncing on the black and white, “clear as crystal” facts to begin with, rather than endlessly sifting through the complicated psychological pulp that proves itself a waste of time. LaMarca and his loyal partner, Reg (George Dzunda) seem to have seen it all throughout their spanning years on the decrepit beachfront areas within the borders of their territory, so solving cases nowadays simply involves effortless recall to those similar occurrences of the past.  

LaMarca’s latest assignment sees him transferred to the City By The Sea (Long Beach, NY), a dive of a city that was once most popular among probing tourists ‘back in the day’. In today’s times, the city by the sea barely offers comfort to its population of unfortunate drug addicts who inhabit the industrial and commercial wastelands that were once thriving.

City By The Sea

The case in question involves the misdemeanors of two anxious crack-addicts on a Long Island boardwalk during the course of one unfortunate evening. Clueless to what was actually occurring around them, the only thing on the minds of these two was their urgency to find someone whom they could easily score a ‘refill’ off to intensify their current state of delusion. Sooner rather than later, the lucky dealer found himself at the tip of a knife after a series of alarming threats, and of course, one thing lead to another.

LaMarca’s case seems to be running quite smoothly, that is until it’s discovered that the prime suspect of the murder in question is his own son, Joey (James Franco), whom he walked out on 14 years ago along with his ex-wife, Maggie (Patti LuPone). A huge personal burden of LaMarca’s adds more familial intensity to the case, as seeing his own son convicted for murder irritates a scar of his similar domestic situation that he was forced to witness as a child. LaMarca’s confusing struggle conflicts with his traditional practice, as it is his duty as a homicide detective to recognise a criminal’s justice, and his duty as a father to safeguard the life of his own son.

A fairly branded plot is strung together by alluring performances the whole way through, which thankfully compensate for the generic nature of the on-screen action. De Niro is great, as per usual, and manages to withhold the interest of the viewer in his own hands for the entire 110 minutes of the feature. Alongside De Niro is the immensely talented Frances McDormand, whom we can always trust to deliver a memorable performance, and she does so glamorously as De Niro’s neighbour-come-love interest. Spiderman’s James Franco shows us that he’s certainly worthy of recognition, and arrestingly portrays the uneasy character of the convicted Joey- despite the irritating, over-the-top accent.

We could easily trust the film’s director, Michael Caton-Jones, after applauding previous projects such as The Jackal, This Boy’s Life (also starring De Niro) and Memphis Belle. The direction certainly isn’t bad, it’s Ken Hixon’s disappointing screenplay adaptation that attempted to stylize a 1997 Esquire article that starts to sink the boat. The Esquire article reported back actual events. However, it is believed to be that the killing was in-fact much more brutal in real life. Hixon’s script aimlessly tries to cheat audiences into sympathising for its characters, especially the two LaMarca men but fails miserably to do so, thanks to its unfavorable “Hollywood” formula.

City By The Sea

Although it is far from original, City By The Sea still remains commendable in several different respects. Even if it’s quite a miserable tale, the film still offers a considerable amount of fulfillment, and consistently offers curiosity to its audience until its disappointingly passé finale that just seems embarrassingly over-the-top.  

The folks at Roadshow certainly seem committed to their work, as this transfer is another fine installment of their recent marvels. The Region 4 DVD release of City By The Sea presents the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and is 16:9 enhanced. Fans of the film would only hope for a remarkable transfer upon the film’s DVD release, taking the film’s usually murky atmosphere into consideration. Although dark at given times, the sharpness and vibrancy of colour are nothing short of exceptional when we encounter those quick transitions between light and dark takes. Everything seems to contrast perfectly well together, and at no time can we even question the quality of this transfer. Surely another winner to add to the fast-growing list of beauties from Roadshow.

City By The Sea

What we have here is the usual Dolby Digital 5.1 surround treatment that kindly enhances those suspenseful moments quite impressively, with balanced dialogue slipped comfortably between surrounding effects sequences. Although the surround is plausible, the quality of the dialogue seems noticeably less supported here, at times being hard to comprehend amongst the dominating surround usage. Whether it be flaws in the on-location recording, or the mix itself, it will stand in the way for those picky folk such as myself who are used to the folks at Roadshow producing superbly balanced audio tracks. Despite the earlier concern with the dialogue, all surround channels are rationally employed, making the surround package in itself hard to disappoint the majority.

As luck would have it, the elementary bouquet of extras offered here doesn’t promise much additional entertainment, only offering one substantial extra feature (a relatively brief featurette), and two less substantial extras (the film’s original theatrical trailer and cast and crew biographies). The featurette on show is entitled Six Words About Filmmaking, and is nothing more than a little chat with the film’s director, Michael Caton-Jones. Corresponding with the title, Caton-Jones discusses the rules associated with communicating, casting, directing, shooting, editing and learning that any director should undertake when shooting a film. This seems to be fairly unnecessary, but at its best, it’s little something extra for demanding viewers.

The film’s original theatrical trailer is also included in the package of extras and does a perfect job of teasing fans of De Niro, offering a suspenseful, inquiring peek at the film. A stylishly impressive clip that fabricates anticipation. Also included are the standard cast and crew biographies for those looking for a little something extra.

Unfortunately, we’re not treated with an audio commentary from director Michael Caton-Jones, which both Region 1 and Region 2 releases are fortunate enough to have. Even if not impressive, this commentary would have offered something more to an inadequate selection of extra features that seems somewhat incomplete.

City By The Sea

City By The Sea is yet another cinematic experience that takes an unfortunate Hollywood turn, but aside from that, its formula seems acceptable and the film itself is usually enjoyable. With top-notch performances that generously forgive the hackneyed plot, it proves itself a harmless flick that doesn’t threaten to plummet De Niro’s reputation into the ground any further. Fans of De Niro shouldn’t have any hesitation adding City By The Sea into their growing collection, as the highly competent transfer makes the home-viewing experience a worthy one.