City by the Sea is a basically a cop drama, based on a true story. I didn't know what to expect out of this movie. I thought it would be pretty boring, but not to my surprise Robert De Niro offered an incredible performance (of course). He was at the top of his game on this one folks. P.S. I kind of had a hard time listening to the dialogue, because one of my fellow movie-watchers kept making commentary throughout the movie, but this should hopefully not affect my judgment in anyway.
WARNING: SPOILER UPAHEAD!
Vincent LaMarca (De Niro) is a top homicide division cop in New York City. His personal life is a mess he's left long ago. With the divorce of his wife (Patti Lupone) and the excommunication from his son, Vincent decided to start over with a new love (Frances McDormand). Vincent's son, Joey LaMarca (played superbly by James Franco) is a druggie who wonders Long Beach, Long Island looking for a high.
Joey as a character portrays the loneliness and desperation of a drug addict in vivid realism. Joey and his fellow drug user Snake, drive out to the beach (while high) to go get more drugs. Joey waits in the car while Snake goes up to the dealer's car window to pay for the junk. Suddenly, the dealer gets out of the car and starts beating on Snake. Joey gets out of the car and helps Snake. The dealer has a knife and in the fray it gets tossed to the ground. Joey grabs the knife and plunges it into the dealer's heart while he is on the ground. After realizing what had happened, Joey and Snake dump the dealer's body into the river.
After this ordeal Joey lays low. The next day the police find the body of the dealer. Vincent and his partner are the ones who first are on the scene. Soon the police find Snake and take him in. Snake confesses and tells the cop that Joey Nova (Joey LaMarca alias) did the crime. Now that Vincent's son is the main suspect he is taken off the case. Vincent wants to protect his son, but he also wants to be a cop and there begins an inner struggle inside of him.
Meanwhile, a head dealer named Spyder (William Forsythe in a mullet), who was the boss of the dealer Joey killed, is out looking for his $4000 dollars he thinks Joey stole. The police took the money, but Spyder doesn't know this, so of course he has to try and find Joey then whack him.
The cops get on Joey's tail to and soon they go searching around the abandoned casino where Joey resides. Vincent's partner starts to go to the top area of the building, when he gets shot. Spyder is the one who shot him; he thought it was Joey. He skidaddles, leaving the gun behind which is one Joey stole and has his prints all over it. Now, Joey is not only in hiding the cops are out for his blood. Vincent has no idea what he should do. He tells his girlfriend all about his personal life for the first time and then she tells him she needs to "think about it".
The fact that Vincent discovers that he has a grandson, Angelo, doesn't help the situation, especially when Joey's supposedly clean, ex-junkie girlfriend (Eliza Dushku) leaves the kid at Vincent's apartment when she goes to buy cigarettes and fails to return. Vincent, who's always defined himself against his criminal father (a convicted baby-killer who got the electric chair), finds himself forced to decide whether he's a cop or a father and grandfather first, a quandary that naturally leads to some pretty compelling, if slightly melodramatic, scenes for De Niro.
The ending ends on a semi-happy note of Joey going to jail, (it might be only for a few years because of self-defense) the bad guy dieing and Vincent LaMarca bonding with his newly found grandson.
Interestingly, despite the somber subject matter and the dramatic tone, the film still manages a few lighthearted moments, which really save it from the pitfalls of its own seriousness.
Cast and Crew
Robert De Niro - Vincent LaMarca
Frances Mcdormand - Michelle (Vincent's girlfriend)
James Franco - Joey LaMarca
Elisha Dushku - Gina (Joey's girlfriend)
William Forsythe - Spyder
George Dzundza - Reg Duffy
Patti Lupone - Maggie
Anson Mount - David Simon
Michael Caton-Jones - Director, Producer
Brad Grey, Elie Samaha, Matthew Baer - Producers