Judge Clark Douglas would love to see a season of Jersey Shore starring James Gandolfini.
Shattered dreams, shocking crimes and final chances.
In the years since The Sopranos reached its controversial conclusion, the great James Gandolfini has struggled to find another meaty role worthy of his talents. He's been predictably stellar playing supporting roles in flicks like In the Loop, Killing Them Softly and Cinema Verite, but the actor deserves more. The indie drama Down the Shore at least manages to make Gandolfini a leading man again, but unfortunately the film itself isn't worthy of his talents. It's always disappointing to see tremendous talent trapped inside a film that doesn't really know how to use it.
Gandolfini plays Bailey, a down-on-his-luck carnival operator who lives in a beat-up house on the Jersey shore. One day, Bailey receives a visit from Jacques (Edoardo Costa, Live Free or Die Hard), a Frenchman who had once been married to Bailey's estranged sister Susan (Maria Dizzia, Martha Marcy May Marlene). Alas, it seems that Susan has passed away, and in her will declared that Jacques should receive half of the house Bailey is currently living in. Bailey doesn't react happily to this news, but he begrudgingly allows Jacques to move in until he can figure out something else.
Meanwhile, Bailey has other relationship complications he's trying to sort out. He still harbors strong feelings for his best friend (and former lover) Mary (Famke Janssen, X-Men), who is currently married to the wily Wiley (Joe Pope) and spends her days caring for her mentally-disabled son Martin (John Magaro, Not Fade Away). When it's revealed that Wiley may be mistreating Mary, Bailey becomes furious, but for a variety of reasons is unwilling to act on his feelings (a decision that in turn baffles and infuriates Jacques).
Over the course of the film's first hour, these characters brood, snipe at each other and do their best to keep their true feelings buried. Director Harold Guskin (a well-regarded acting coach who counts Gandolfini, Kevin Kline, Glenn Close and many others among his clients) does a good job in terms of creating a distinctive mood—the overcast, downbeat Jersey shore vibe is captured effectively, and the performances (Gandolfini's wounded turn in particular) actually manage to accentuate that mood even further—but the bland, predictable story (penned by Sandra Jennings, whose only previous work consists of a few television movies in the early '90s) being offered undercuts the rest of the film's strengths considerably.
It's easy to see what the film is going for: it wants to offer a tale in which the tension builds and builds until everyone bursts forth with all of their secrets during the third act, resulting in some intense emotional catharsis. Unfortunately, it's all too obvious that this is precisely what the film is up to from the beginning, meaning that for much of the movie we feel as if we're just killing time until the climax arrives. That filler tends to be on the bland side, as the Bailey/Jacques relationship never really becomes as compelling as it ought to and the Bailey/Mary relationship is riddled with conventions (predictably, Down the Shore makes things too easy by turning the husband into an completely irredeemable figure as Bailey grows closer to declaring his love). It's obvious that the film wants to be taken seriously; it strains for profundity at every turn. Sadly, neither the film's ambition nor the unintentional melancholy added by the shadow of Hurricane Sandy (the film was shot years before that tragic event) changes the fact that it's terminally dull.
Down the Shore (Blu-ray) has received a satisfactory 1080p/1.78:l transfer, making it easy to appreciate the film's devotion to capturing an authentic portrait of its location. Detail is strong throughout, and the film's downbeat palette works well thanks to strong shadow delineation and depth. Blacks are rich and inky; flesh tones are natural. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is satisfactory, too, spotlighting a subtle score from composer Andrea Morricone (Ennio's son) and some immersive (if rather low-key) ambient design. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Unfortunately, no supplements of any kind have been included.
Down the Shore has a number of strong elements to work with, but the end result turns out to be as drab and unremarkable as its setting. Here's hoping that Gandolfini gets something better and that Guskin has something better in him.
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