Review: “City by the Sea”

Despite a stellar cast who give some touching moments to their performances, they can’t help lift this wishy washy cop drama above mediocre TV movie level. Based on a true story, there is a downbeat and unflashy element to proceedings which give them a realistic tone but also add to that TV quality of it. Its a real shame considering the talent onboard both in front of and behind the screen but the ordinary script, the by-the-numbers directing and some weird editing techniques (Franco and De Niro are oddly placed in many scenes) sabotage it before it even gets off the ground.

De Niro’s cop roles of late have been getting more watered down each time with this overtaking “Showtime” as just a bad choice on his part. The few moments of warmth generated here are mostly thanks to Frances McDormand as a neighbourly love interest – the pair’s casual relationship mark the film’s best moments with a nice subtle chemistry which never goes too far but there’s still just not enough material. James Franco gives a decent but somewhat flat performance, the talent showing more in his physical look than his acting abilities. Eliza Dushku is always great and does well here despite limited screen time.

The examination of parental relationships has some sparks at times such as the climactic face-off, but the dialogue is really quite painfully bad and cliche-ridden which causes many of these said scenes to misfire. The downbeat locales are too generic to really add any atmosphere aside from one unintentionally hilarious choice of putting Dushku’s apartment next to a porn parlour so scenes with her are accompanied by lots of groaning. The overly talky, ultra slow and muddily handled piece has been sitting on the shelves at Warners for about two years now – its easy to see why. The odd moment of effective emotion certainly isn’t enough of a reward to wade through an otherwise flat feature.