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City By The Sea
Review by Alex Grant

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones

City By the Sea
Frances McDormand
Robert De Niro
James Franco

General Release USA
Sept 6th

MICHAEL CATON-JONES ‘CITY BY THE SEA’ Scots fimmaker Michael Caton-Jones’ second film with Tribeca ubermensch Robert De Niro is a companion-piece to his first 'This Boy’s Life'.Both deal with fathers and sons.

Relentlessly low-key,down-beat and somber, if not sordid, 'City' is a true-crime variation on the Biblical Story of Job and that of Abraham and Isaac. Taken from actual events in New York and Long Beach this tortuous family melodrama focuses upon a most unfortunate Police Lieutenant,Vincent LaMarca.
The son of a kidnapper executed for the strangulation of an infant LaMarca is precipitously flung into Hell when his drug-addicted son Joey [James Franco] is sought by the police after the stabbing of a minor drug-dealer.Then Joey appears to be the culprit in the shooting death of his own father’s cop streetwise partner. Then the son chooses to slay the real killer of the partner.
In the meantime Joey’s common-law wife Gina abandons Victor’s grandson Angelo in the care of his grandfather. A truly Biblical litany of woe.

City is so genuinely sordid, and takes itself so very seriously,that it swiftly tumbles into the maudlin, damaging the unstinting conviction of the actors. De Niro personifies stoicism writ large.

A brutally naturalistic depiction of very ordinary lives, led in quiet desperation, this gritty movie shows exactly how urban folk survive, dress, eat and converse- it boasts a truly pellucid sense of actuality.

But a Biblical parable needs to strive for the genuinely mythical. Yet the absolute rock-bottom realism of City prevents the filmmakers from rising above "Just The Facts,Ma’am" surface verisimilitude, at best.

Realism for its own sake can be counter-productive to art per se. Reality is in our faces throughout the live-long day. It must be transformed by artistry to be validates on screen.

© Alex Grant September 2002

Michael Apted’s Enigma
Review by Alex Grant

Enigma is the high point of Michael Apted’s career

More Reviews here

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