Review Date: August 27, 2002
Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Writer: Ken Hixon
Producers: Elie Samaha, Matthew Baer
Robert De Niro
The other part of the film which totally clicked for me was James Franco, who is also amazingly convincing as DeNiro's junkie-ass son. Almost unrecognizable in the role, Franco showcases his obvious acting chops with an extremely well-rounded performance of yet another man dealing with his inner-demons. Unlike DeNiro's character who seems to have it all together, Franco is as fucked up as they come, but he's trying his best and you ultimately learn to respect him on certain levels. Those two performances and the dealings of both men vis-à-vis the other were enough for me to consider this film a success, but there's more stuff that works as well. There's Frances McDormand as the downstairs neighbor and confidante of DeNiro's, who is up to her usual snuff. There's Eliza Dushku, taking on a small but significant role without showing off her boobies, and convincing. There's a rookie cop who respects DeNiro and has his own connection to the case, William Forsythe as a nasty biker, and a very gritty, street look throughout, reminiscent of 70s crime flicks. I also loved how they used Long Beach's decrepit nature as the backdrop to the whole story, and the film's resolution, which although clichéd on the surface (a shootout), doesn't resolve that easily and offers a little suspense to boot.
I can see how some might blow this flick off as being too slow, too "formula" or not action-oriented enough, but this film has its own agenda. It's a mannered, mature story of a man who has to work through his own habits and ultimately come to grips with the darkness of his past, and a son whom he never really mentored. The whole "murder storyline" seemed more of a byline to me, like a way through which this man and his son finally connected (admittedly, some of it is weak). It's for patient viewers, it doesn't feature any action, and despite a couple of small laughs, is pretty darn grim and serious most of the time (the one really bad scene in the film feels like a studio insert as the camera circles around DeNiro's character as we hear various thoughts from the film running through his mind-c'mon man, give us a little more credit than that!) But if you're in the mood for some emotion (I had a lot of my "own shit" going on when I saw this and broke down like a bitch on several occasions, but I think more of that had to do with my "own shit" than the flick itself), some heartfelt family orientation, struggles for redemption and solid directing, you should definitely check this film out and enjoy two of the greater acting performances of the year so far. Just remember...there are no easy solutions here...just like in real life.