I have to be honest. I am a sucker for Robert De Niro’s films, but then again, who isn’t? As soon as I get one of his films in my hands, I have to watch it and most of the time I’m not disappointed. I wasn’t really familiar with "City By The Sea" when it first arrived but decided to give it a spin. To see De Niro and Frances McDormand together in a movie was certainly promising outset, but I wasn’t quite prepared for a film of this caliber.
"City By The Sea" tells the story of Joey LaMarca (James Franco), a junkie on the verge of losing it all, his sanity, his grip on reality and his life. Every which way he turns for a little help to pull him out of the gutters is refused or abused and not even his mother believes in Joey’s promises to come clean any longer.
One night he and one of his friends get into a fight with a dealer and Joey accidentally stabs the man to death. They dispose of the body in the river and hope this would be the end of it. But it isn’t, of course. The body washes ashore the next day and authorities start a murder investigation. Leading the case is Vince La Marca (Robert De Niro), Joey’s father. Vince got divorced from his wife when Joey was a child and through a series of circumstances he distanced himself entirely from her and his son. Father and son hardly know each other but as the evident mounts Vince’s past is coming back to haunt him.
But not only the cops are on Joey’s heels, Spyder (William Forsythe) is also tracking him, trying to put a bullet through his head for killing one of his drug runners. He uses Joey’s girlfriend Gina, trying to get to him, determined to find him before the police does.
"City By The Sea" starts out like an incredible thriller – and remains one for the entire running length – but as the story progresses you realize that it is also a magnificent human drama. The conflict between Joey and the rest of the world, the barrier between him and his father, his father’s torment over leaving his only son, never having had a chance to guide and be with him, and their struggle to find a solution to the mess that their lives have become is not only tangible but its portrayal in the movie is so real that it becomes almost painful.
After all these years, you think you’ve seen Robert De Niro do everything, but in "City Of The Sea" he manages to bring us character unlike any he’s played before. There is no toughness about him, and there is no snappy language to shut people up. Here we have a real living man, lonely and unable to commit to a real relationship with his next-door-girlfriend. He is no superhero, just a man fighting his own demons every day and one who is not able to see the end of the tunnel as he tries to become what he should have become a long time ago – his son’s father. A figure that guides him through rough times and problems, when in fact he himself is not necessarily able to come to terms his own life and past.
Overall "City By The Sea" is beautifully cast and acted. The parts are strong and believable, reacting to their world the way you would expect them to. The story is marvelously rich and you will see as you watch the movie, that entirely without clichés, the film unravels life stories that could be our own, in a world where we are not always able to forge our own destinies.
Warner Home Video is presenting "City By The Sea" in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is enhanced for 16x9 television sets. Being a brand new film it is hardly surprising that it looks beautifully and is free of defects or blemishes of any sort. Colors are naturally rendered, bringing the stark urban backdrop to life in all its harshness, and blacks are solid with good shadow delineation. Edge-enhancement is at a minimum, allowing you to truly enjoy the movie’s visual qualities.
The DVD comes with a dynamic 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio track that makes aggressive use of the split surround channels. It is engaging and carefully produced, creating a sound field that is wide and very active. The frequency response is wide and the audio offers deep basses with good punch, as well as high ends that are free of hiss and distortion. Dialogues are nicely integrated and always understandable, firmly placed in the front of the sound field. "City By The Sea" also features a beautiful score that is reproduced on this DVD with no flaws, adding to the movie’s atmosphere immensely.
Warner Home Video has added a commentary track by writer Ken Hixon and producer Matthew Baer on this DVD. It is an insightful commentary that offers a wealth of additional information about the story the characters and the motivations behind the movie. More writers should get the chance to talk about their work, as Hixon has some truly valuable insight to offer.
An interview featurette with director Michael Caton-Jones is also on the disc, giving him the chance to elaborate on the making of the film. It is quite interesting to hear him talk about the production and things like directing his top-notch cast. The movie’s theatrical trailer rounds out the release.
If "City By The Sea" flew under your radar during its theatrical release, it is high time to catch up! This is a marvelous movie that combines a thriller with true human drama, the likes we find it on the streets of the world every day. You will not regret giving this disc a spin, so go, get it already!