The members of the vaunted HBO show The Sopranos have tackled post-show projects to varying degrees of success. Yet for an odd reason while watching Down The Shore I felt at the time as if this were an oddly eclectic sequel for one of the characters. Once I got past it, I was pleasantly surprised.
Written by Sandra Jennings (her first feature film screenplay) and directed by Harold Guskin in his directing debut, the main character in this film is Bailey (James Gandolfini, Killing Them Softly). Bailey runs a small amusement park on the New Jersey shore. He lives next door to Mary (Famke Janssen, X2) whom he has known since they were both kids and at one point the two dated. Mary left Bailey and eventually married Wiley (Joe Pope, Pride & Loyalty), who occasionally smokes drugs and beats her. Things suddenly change for Bailey when Jacques (Edoardo Costa, Live Free or Die Hard) arrives from France to inform him of his sister's death, and that the sister has left her estate, including part of the house Bailey lives in, to Jacques. Bailey is not only dealing with this news and new roommate, but trying to rescue Mary and her son from her increasingly dysfunctional relationship.
When watching Gandolfini as Bailey, one senses the weariness he has had through the years, something that could even manifest as an emotional stunting of sort. He seems to have closed off a lot in his life, focusing quietly on his seldom used park where kids enjoy a merry go round and other various rides. Seeing him go through the news about his sister's death is something that he never seems to fully reconcile over the course of the film, though his attempts to liberate Mary from Wiley might be his last chance at true happiness in his life. Seeing Gandolfini convey this over the course of the film represents a different facet in his performances that proves to be convincing. Just as convincing and not entirely expected was Janssen's performance. The chemistry she has with Gandolfini is credible and the pairing leads to an authenticity which (combined with the setting and time of year) leads one to feel the sense of nostalgia or lost chances that each character has gone through. Jacques' introduction to Bailey's life challenges Bailey to perhaps take the leap of being bold for Mary, despite whatever ramifications Wiley may impart to the both of them.
Jennings' screenplay does tend to hamper the efforts of its characters to some degree unfortunately. Some of the things that are introduced to make Wiley loathsome are not entirely necessary when it comes to how the story unfolds, and when it comes to the unfolding, Bailey's character development in the second and third acts tends to be spotty. We get Bailey's shock and grief change into some desire for a grand gesture to Mary, but getting from that point to a larger or different moment for Bailey is shaky. And while Gandolfini and Janssen may have been enamored with the characters when reading the story, this seems to be limited to them, without much interest in how the rest of the film shakes out.
To be clear, having Famke Janssen and James Gandolfini try different or new things with their skillsets is interesting as things like that should be. But doing something new for the sake of the exercise yet sacrificing the overall product certainly says something about the final product. I like the work James Gandolfini has done since the thing that made him famous and hope that he does more. I hope he can find better stories than what we see here.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Anchor Bay rolls Down The Shore out in an AVC-encoded 1.78:1 widescreen presentation that has its moments. To be sure, the image detail within facial lines and wrinkles is easily spotted, and the black levels do fine justice to the few Jersey evenings that I recall. By the same token, the drab blues and grays of the winter season look cold enough to reflexively put a jacket on while watching. DNR is not discernible, though there is a subtle layer of film grain during moments of viewing. The transfer was better than expected.
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround rules the day for the film, and the overall result holds its own. Dialogue is well-balanced in the center channel and requires little compensation, and the rear channels get some moments to include environmental noise from the beach or amusement park. The music of a bar band while Bailey muses about current events sounds clear and has a moment or two of low-end fidelity to it. The film is not going to be an immersive experience for the entire time, but when it gets a chance to, it shows off all of the channels adequately.
Down The Shore is interesting viewing for the first half of the film, but the second half proves to be a disappointment considering how much emphasis is placed on the characters. Technically the disc proves to be quite good, though a commentary track or something would have been nice to have. The disc proves to be an interesting rental, but little else.