Robert De Niro and Frances Mc Dormand (Fargo) star in this compact and complex film. Even though City By The Sea is billed as a thriller, it really is more about what happens when the sins of the father are passed down through generations. Vince La Morcha, a veteran NYPD Homicide detective, is a man who has never come to terms with his fathers execution. Divorced, living alone, he trudges through life, determined not to repeat his fathers mistakes. His casual affair with Michelle (McDormand) requires very little of him emotionally, though it is obvious Michelle wants much more from him.
His ex-wife Maggie (Patti Lupone) has sole custody of their son Joey (James Franco), is a heroin addict who spends most of his time at the old Long Island Boardwalk. Maggie is embittered and shrewish, offering Joey very little emotional support in his struggles to clean up and get straight. One night after an argument with his mother we find Joey getting high with a buddy of his Snake (Brian Tarentina). When they decide to go score another hit, Snake tells Joey to stay by the car while he makes the buy. From there, things turn ugly in seconds as the dealer tries to slash his friend with a knife. Joey jumps in and suddenly the guys dead. They dump him under the bridge and take off.
Here is where I feel the film falters badly. Very quickly, Joey La Morcha is fingered as the prime suspect, by none other than his buddy Snake. Snake is terrified because the head man on the streets is out for blood, so Snake decides he'll finger Joey and get a nice safe berth in jail. In the meantime, top brass in the NYPD are doing damage control on the story. And it's not because Joey is Vince's son.
This part of the film is just not credible and feels like a badly thought out afterthought by the producers. The story ends up on a note of redemption and hope as Vince and Joey finally lay their respective ghosts to rest. Though City By The Sea is not the best of De Niro's works, it offers much in the way of insight into how badly an unresolved past can damage every aspect of a life. With its brooding and atmospheric photography, it is perfect for a rainy afternoon.