City By The Sea (2002)

(In theaters, September 2002) Very gritty, dark, pseudo-realist crime drama starring (even in absentia) four generations of fathers and sons on various sides of the law. Set against a moody tattered town on the eve of self-destruction, this film wants to be an exploration of similarly-damaged characters constantly wrestling with questions of right and wrong against difficult circumstances. Am I being too profound, here? Because frankly, there isn’t a whole lot to be amused about in City By The Sea, a dour film that does its best to sap all energy out of its premise. Pretty much everything takes place at night, with haunted, tired characters that look like they could enjoy vacations. (Indeed, one of them can’t wait to get to Key West.) After Road To Perdition, this is yet another 2002 crime film trying to tie in all sort of symbolism through its fixation on paternity. It works maybe too well, bordering on a rather repulsive misogyny: All three of the film’s female protagonists are depicted as quitters who would rather completely abandon the male heroes rather than help them out. (It’s not an accident if the sunny happy coda doesn’t have a single feminine presence: They all disappeared from the story some time before.) Robert de Niro looks haggard and hurt, and except for James Franco’s beaten-up role, that’s pretty much the only standout of the film performance-wise. If you’re looking for a depressing crime drama, go ahead, have what you’re looking for… but otherwise, pass!

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