City by the Sea [2002]

A welcome throwback to the cop dramas of the '70s, City by the Sea is an average film improved by its cast. Robert De Niro stars as veteran New Jersey detective Vincent LaMarca, lamenting the once glorious Asbury Park boardwalk, now dilapidated from the decay of changing times. A good cop but a regrettable father, LaMarca must confront past mistakes and repressed memories when his estranged son (James Franco) becomes the prime suspect in the killing of LaMarca's partner (George Dzundza). There's a nagging inevitability to Ken Hixon's otherwise intelligent screenplay, but De Niro and Frances McDormand--as LaMarca's compassionate neighbor and part-time girlfriend--turn this simmering drama into something deeper than it is. McDormand's role would be thin without the depth and humanity she brings to it, and both De Niro and Franco mine gold from their troubling father-son legacy. Based on a true story, City by the Sea has that kernel of authenticity that good actors thrive on. --Jeff Shannon

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