City By The Sea review

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The last few years have not been kind to Robert De Niro. Sure, there have been flashes of the old Bob - Heat, Casino, Jackie Brown - but largely we've witnessed an all-time great reduced to self-parody in shoddy titles such as Showtime.

But you can't keep a goodfella down, and while this sombre police thriller doesn't excuse him some of the recent horror shows, it does prove that the old Method master hasn't lost his touch.

Bobby's cast as Vincent La Marca, a doughty cop who's attempting to keep Manhattan's streets clean and the world - including girlfriend Frances McDormand - at a safe distance. He appears content, but Vince has dark secrets: his dad was executed for child murder and he assaulted his wife and walked out on his own kid 14 years ago. But now he's back in Long Beach, working on a murder case in which his son Joey (James Franco) is prime suspect.

Sounds far-fetched, right? But the story smacks of truth despite its contrivances. Chances are that's because it is true (the script is based on an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mike McAlary), but it's also a credit to Michael Caton-Jones' direction and the excellent cast. It's unsurprising that a great actress like McDormand can match De Niro, but Eliza Dushku excels as Joey's girlfriend, while Franco has presence to spare. His foul-mouthed dropout could be hateable, but he's heart-tugging. And De Niro? Well, he plays it subdued, but this is no sleepwalking turn - the hooded eyes tell his story.

Just as well, given the clunky dialogue and workaday plot. Still, whatever the flaws, De Niro's final speech brings back the great-actor tingles. Okay, Bob, we forgive you for 15 Minutes.

Engaging and downbeat in a '70s realist style, this formulaic police procedural thriller is lifted by a star-making turn from James Franco and a return to form for Robert De Niro.

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