New York City homicide detective Vincent LaMarca has forged a long and distinguished career in law enforcement, making a name for himself as a man intensely committed to his work. But on his latest case, the stakes are higher for Vincent - the suspect he's investigating is his own son, Joey. Vincent and Joey have been painfully estranged ever since Vincent divorced Joey's mother and left the decaying boardwalks of Long Beach, Long Island for the anonymity of Manhattan and a successful career with the NYPD. He lives his life in solitude, keeping his girlfriend at arm's length; the closest relationship he maintains is with his partner, Reg - and Vincent makes sure that friendship stops at the precinct door. As long as Vincent lives in the protection of the present, he doesn't have to deal with the pain of his past - or his sorrow over his broken relationship with Joey. But this murder investigation is drawing Vincent home to Long Beach, the self-proclaimed "City by the Sea," where the past has been waiting for him to return. The agonizing memory that has tortured him all his life - the death of his father, a convicted murderer who was executed when Vincent was just a boy - still plagues him. In the course of the investigation, he discovers that his own unresolved pain and failures as a father have deeply influenced Joey's life, and the destructive choices he has made. As a cop, Vincent must bring a criminal to justice; as a father he must find a way to save his son. Now he will put his life on the line in order to do right by both his family and his profession.
Robert De Niro plays Vincent LaMarca, a New York homicide detective who has fled the decaying resort town of Long Beach on Long Island to escape a broken marriage and a family history that includes a father who was executed for murder. But when Vincent's feckless, drug-addicted son (James Franco) is implicated in a murder, the policeman's stable, second-chance life threatens to collapse around him. Unfortunately, as it assumes the burden of a too-complicated plot, the movie starts to collapse as well. This somber crime melodrama is full of rich, dark themes of paternal guilt, professional duty and moral choice, but the director, Michael Caton-Jones, and the screenwriter, Ken Hixon, do little more than stuff them into the mouths of the characters. Frances McDormand and Mr. De Niro, who gives one of his deepest, most generous performances in some time, are undermined by a movie that seems not to trust their gifts for emotional understatement. — A. O. Scott
2002-09-06 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of City by the Sea