Dedicated homicide detective Vincent LaMarca's private pain is exposed when his estranged junkie son, Joey, emerges as prime suspect in a murder investigation. The conflicting responsibilities of tracking a killer and saving his son put Vincent deep in professional and personal crisis.
A story so amazing - son of executed baby-killer turned homicide cop must hunt down his own estranged son on a murder rap - that it can only be true. Long on atmosphere, short on pace, the perambulatory narrative - split between the son and father - betrays its magazine article origins, with too much pussy-footing on the home front before we get into the meat of the chase.
That said, Robert De Niro undercooks his stoic cop/bad father to perfect tenderness and young James Franco channels Jimmy Dean to good effect as the troubled and drug-addled teen. When, at last, the two generations meet, the reunion packs enough emotional punch to be worth the wait. Elsewhere, the dependable Frances McDormand makes the most of an underwritten part as De Niro's love interest.
The best character, though, is the seaside ghost town itself - Astbury Park standing in for Long Beach. Shot with a cool outsider's eye by director Michael Caton-Jones, this empty shell of a city offers all the desolate beauty of the very best war photography.
A strong story in which the familiar cop drama elements are efficiently handled to serve the beautifully played-out psychological study.