City By The Sea

Crime, family, and De Niro; a quiet beauty

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DIRECTED BY Michael Caton-Jones

STARRING Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand

Opens January 24, Cert 15, 108 mins

De Niro’s quality control’s been imperfect recently, but this portrait of a tough cop and vulnerable father allows him to use his entire palette with subtlety and strength. There are also career-best performances here from McDormand and rising stars James Franco and Eliza Dushku.

Adapted from a true story, it’s the gently gripping tale of a Manhattan cop forced to pursue the chief suspect in a murder case?his estranged son. Vincent (De Niro) walked out on his wife and son Joey (Franco) 14 years ago. He loses his pain in his work, and enjoys a laid-back relationship with the woman downstairs, Michelle (McDormand). Forced to acknowledge Joey’s existence now, his world is suddenly under assault, and when Joey’s girl Gina (Dushku) arrives bearing a grandson he didn’t know about, he feels like he’s battling time itself.

Joey, meanwhile, is a junkie, on the run from both the cops and dealer William Forsythe. He haunts the delapidated boardwalks of Long Beach. “Used to be beautiful round here,” mutters De Niro, treading on syringes, forlornly trying to find his son before his colleagues do. The faded grandeur of Long Island is a metaphor for De Niro’s state of mind, but it’s not done obviously.

Franco’s a find, and the rapport between De Niro and McDormand resonates effortlessly. There are echoes of Richard Price here, of Heat, even On The Waterfront. You may even notice them after absorbing De Niro’s soft-spoken declaration that he’s still very much a force.

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