De Niro makes “City” a class act

By Gus Bode

City By The Sea

It’s nice to have the old Bob back.

Not that Mr. De Niro really went anywhere. It’s just that for a while, he hasn’t quite been the tough and hard-edged “Goodfellas” Bob we all know and love. He’s been the goofy Bob of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and the self-parodying Bob of “Meet The Parents.” The silly Bob of “Analyze This” and the embarrassing Bob of “Showtime.”


It’s about time we got to see Bob back in true Bob form again. And you know what?

He’s never looked better.

His newest film, “City By The Sea,” is a real treat to watch, a reminder of why I love the movies in the first place. It’s not just because of De Niro, who avoids the self-caricaturing trap so many of his peers fall into and actually chews into his role with some honest, hard-won grit. This is just a well-made film, hands down, no doubt about it.

Best film of the year? I wouldn’t presume to go that far, and really, I doubt it wants to be taken that way. But if you want to see some good acting, a well-told story and some good direction by Michael Caton-Jones, “City By The Sea” may be the best way of spending $5 the theaters have to offer right now.

Yes, it’s a cop movie, and we all know De Niro knows his cops. But don’t come expecting a retread of what he’s done a thousand times before, because you’ll walk away disappointed. As New York City homicide detective Vincent LaMarca, Bob has a preternatural talent for his job but carries weights on his shoulder that make us wonder how he got where he is. As a boy, his father was executed for the murder of a baby, and dad’s reputation as a vicious killer follows LaMarca everywhere he goes. LaMarca’s own son, Joey, is a street-banged junkie who has been estranged from his father since early childhood, holding a grudge one would expect from a son whose father walked out on him with no explanation.

The only people LaMarca has in his sullen, reclusive world are his tried-and-true partner, Reg, and the woman in the apartment downstairs, played by Frances McDormand, who truly cares about him but actually knows little about his past. It’s not something he likes to talk about.

But when Joey murders a drug dealer in a trade-off gone bad, LaMarca finds himself on the trail of his own son and confronting a family legacy of violence, pain and abuse. The chase takes him into the heart of broken-down Long Beach, the city by the sea, where he deserted his life and family so long ago.


The setting among the rotted boardwalks and decaying casinos of Long Beach is riveting for the story; everything feels empty and vacant, as if all life had been sucked out by years of hate and hopelessness. The actors tread these boards well. De Niro is intense and almost possessed with his role, every step looking painful and determined at the same time, and his onscreen relationship with McDormand is a complex feat pulled off by two extraordinarily talented actors. Perhaps the only disappointment is the lack of resolution between them at the end; this relationship seems like it had some interesting issues to tie up, but we never get back to them when all is said and done.

But that’s a small cookie, not enough to shake the entire package. This is class-act filmmaking from top to bottom and an excellent reason to spend a couple hours at the theater.

And Bob? It’s nice to have you back again. It’s been too long.

Starring:Robert De Niro, Frances McDormand

Running Time:1 hour, 48 minutes

Playing at University Place 8