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Laramie Movie Scope:
City by the Sea

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 7, 2002 -- Except for the acting talent, "City by the Sea" looks like an independent film, with its raw, unpolished look. Its emphasis on the working class makes it look almost European. What makes this film above average is its strong, fact-based story, and great acting performances.

Foremost among the actors, of course, are Academy Award winners Robert De Niro and Frances McDormand. De Niro plays veteran police detective Vincent LaMarca, and McDormand (of "The Man Who Wasn't There"), plays his neighbor and girlfriend, Michelle. The two have a comfortable relationship, but Vincent won't let Michelle get to close. Vincent's closest friend is his partner Reg Duffy (George Dzundza of "Instinct"). Vincent hasn't seen his son, Joey (James Franco of "Spider-Man") in 14 years after a bitter divorce with his wife, Maggie (Patti LuPone of "Heist").

One day, Vincent's comfortable life with Michelle is shattered when he catches a murder investigation and his son turns out to be a suspect in the murder. Vincent is taken off the case quickly, in part, because Vincent's own father was executed for murder and the police department wants to avoid bad publicity. For years, Vincent has been avoiding his past. Now, he is forced to confront it. He must confront the story of his father again. He must confront his ex-wife again, and his son. He soon learns that he also must confront his relationship with Michelle. He either has to let her into his life, or let her go. He wonders if Michelle is right about him getting into the habit of turning his back on his problems.

The story is very compelling. De Niro, McDormand, Franco and LuPone breathe real life into their characters. The acting is truly exceptional. Franco has the gaunt look of a frightened drug user. LuPone bristles with hatred for her ex-husband and is fiercely loving and protective of her son. McDormand is wise and compassionate. Her reaction shots are exceptional. William Forsythe of "Blue Streak" makes for a threatening villain as the drug dealer Spyuder. For him, killing is not a matter of passion, it is business. Dzundza gives a solid supporting performance as Vincent's detective partner. De Niro has a lot of experience playing this kind of character and he does his usual excellent job.

Director Michael Caton-Jones ("Rob Roy" and "Scandal") keeps the tension and drama tightly wound in the second half of the movie. While the script is a bit rough and the look of the film is not polished, the movie has an effectively gritty, realistic feel to it, almost like film noir. Much of the action takes place at Long Beach, a run-down area near Long Island (Long Beach is no longer run down, according to a local reader). It was also filmed a bit like a documentary, which also made it seem more realistic. Unlike most American films there are no glamorous characters. These are all working class people, or people on the skids. All of this is important. If it were not for the fact that the audience is told up front that the film is based on a true story (It is loosely based on Mike McAlary’s 1997 Esquire article "Mark of a Murderer." There is a link to the article below.) and if not for its realistic feel, the film probably would not work. The story it tells would not seem believable. The real story about the murders is, in fact, considerably different than the movie version. Even so, this film is a keeper. It rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)