Ever wonder what Tony Soprano might have been like if he never married, never joined the mob, and instead ran a rundown amusement park? No, I never have either, but that's not too far from the character James Gandolfini plays in 'Down The Shore.' It doesn't help, of course, that the movie is set in New Jersey and the guy he's playing has psychological and emotional trauma from his past that he needs to work through. The good news, of course, is if you enjoyed watching James as Tony, you're probably going to enjoy watching him here, although the plotline is never as good as the quality of acting that Gandolfini brings to his role.
The movie opens in Paris, where a young woman (Maria Dizzia) meets a Frenchman named Jacques (Edoardo Costa) at a manually run merry-go-round. The two strike up a conversation and decide to have dinner together. After the credit sequence, the film shifts locations to New Jersey, where Bailey (Gandolfini) runs an amusement park for children. The park seems to be on its last legs, however, and the fact that it's also wintertime means that customers are few and far between. He is visited by Jacques, who tells Bailey his sister, Susan (the woman we saw in the opening scenes), has died and he has brought her ashes back from Paris. Additionally, Jacques had married her and, according to him, Susan has left him her half of the house where Bailey currently lives.
Bailey, of course, is instantly suspicious of Jacques and his motives, but we'll soon learn that is far from his only issue. In addition to struggling to make money at the amusement park, his best friend from childhood, Wiley (Joe Pope, who also produced the movie), is having relationship problems with his wife, Mary (Famke Janssen), whom Bailey has been in love with since he was young. Wiley is also dealing with a drug addiction on top of the couple having to raise a mentally challenged son (John Magaro).
As if all the above problems weren't enough for Bailey to deal with, there's also mention of hidden secrets involving both his and Wiley's fathers that neither of the men are comfortable talking about. Whatever the secrets are (don't worry, they're revealed by film's end, but I won't spoil them here), they are serious enough that Wiley is able to get money from Bailey when he asks for it in return for not telling anyone what he knows.
'Down The Shore' is a movie where all the characters are broken in some way. While the story never quite works, the acting here is strong, in particular the performances by Gandolfini and Janssen. It's one of those films that doesn't have a whole lot new to say (we've seen movies like this before, particularly independent films in this genre), but the actors are good enough that they'll keep your attention throughout, even though you may quickly forget the movie not long after sitting through it.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Down The Shore' is packaged in a recycle-friendly Blu-ray case, with no inserts. The disc is preloaded with a trailer for the Sharon Stone flick 'Border Run.' The menu consists video taken from the movie, with selections across the bottom of the screen. The disc is Region A encoded.
After the movie's opening segment in Paris, which is full of color and the kind of "pop" that one expects from Blu-ray, the film shifts to its New Jersey location which is (intentionally, of course) more drab-looking and overcast for the remainder of the movie. The images remain sharp and the skin tones consistent through the remainder of the movie (black levels are also solid), although details are never quite as stunning as they were in the pre-credits sequence. 'Down the Shore' was shot on 35mm, so film grain is evident throughout, but never obtrusive or inconsistent from shot to shot. Overall, this is an above-average transfer by Anchor Bay, and the movie looks better than one would expect an indie movie to on home video.
'Down The Shore' is dialogue heavy, so there's not a lot of activity with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless track, but that has everything to do with the film itself rather than any problems with the audio. There are a few scenes where you'll notice directionality in the speakers (there are a couple of bar scenes where a band is playing, as well at least one instance where an oncoming storm provides the rumbling of thunder), but for the most part, everything is coming from the front speakers.
There are no other languages provided as far as the audio is concerned, but the disc does include subtitles in both English SDH and Spanish.
Sadly, there are zero bonus materials on this release, with the exception of the pre-loaded trailer mentioned in the "Vital Disc Stats" section above.
'Down The Shore' is a character-driven piece that's really only notable because of Gandolfini's performance and, therefore, really only recommended to viewers who are fans of the actor. For most, this is something you might want to take a look at if you rent Blu-rays, or perhaps just hold off on until it makes it to cable or one of the streaming services. Rent it.