City by the Sea



Ambitious, improbable and very violent cop drama.
  • Review Date: May 14, 2003
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Release Year: 2002
  • Running Time: 108 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages
Not applicable

Several shootings, references to spousal abuse.


Very brief offscreen reference.


Lots of bad language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Drug references.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the movie has violence, including shooting and murder, graphic drug use, very strong language, and sexual references and situations, including a child born out of wedlock. Characters drink and smoke. There is a reference to domestic abuse. A character attempts suicide.

Kids say

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What's the story?

A boy whose father was executed for murder is raised by the cop who arrested his father. He grows up to be a cop himself (Vincent LaMarca, played by Robert DeNiro), with an exemplary record. A drug dealer's body washes up in Manhattan, where Vincent works. But his driver's license shows that he lived in Long Beach, so Vincent begins a physical and emotional journey to the place he once lived with his wife and son, a once-beautiful, now decayed and deserted beach town. While investigating the murder, Vincent begins to believe that the killer he is looking for could be his own son, Joey, a drug addict.

Is it any good?


CITY BY THE SEA is an ambitious drama that never reaches any of its goals but has some watchable moments along the way. Vincent has survived since he was a child by being unarguably on the side of the good guys to distance himself from his father. He also distances himself from his ex-wife (Patti LuPone), his girlfriend, Michelle (Frances McDormand), and his son, Joey (James Franco, Spider-Man). The pain of his loss is so profound that he cannot bring himself to share it with anyone. Yet he finds himself continuing the cycle of abandonment, and when the movie starts, just before the drug dealer is killed, Vincent has not seen Joey in years.

This is another in the series of movies that the New York Times has called the 2002 summer of the sad fathers (with movies like Minority Report and The Road to Perdition), and, as in Minority Report, there is a maudlin watching-the-old-family-movies scene that feels very heavy-handed. Director Michael Caton-Jones handles the atmosphere well, and DeNiro, McDormand, and LuPone are always worth watching, though this is probably DeNiro's weakest performance, especially in his final scene with his son.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Vincent's statement that he doesn't like to have dinner at his partner's home because "You got a lot of love in your house and when I go there I feel uncomfortable." Different characters make reference to "the real me" or "the real you." What do they mean? How does the director use the burned-out landscape of Long Beach to tell us something about the characters?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 6, 2002
DVD release date:February 18, 2003
Cast:Frances McDormand, James Franco, Robert De Niro
Director:Michael Caton-Jones
Studio:Warner Bros.
Run time:108 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:violence, language, and drug use

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  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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