'Down the Shore' Film Review: James Gandolfini Is Rock Solid in Jersey Shore-Set Indie Drama

A rock solid James Gandolfini performance keeps this slice-of-Jersey-life drama grounded.

PALM SPRINGS -- The setting may be the Jersey Shore, but you won't find any sign of Snooki, The Situation and company in "Down the Shore," an indie drama that does receive a big boost from the presence of Tony Soprano.

In this first feature effort by veteran acting coach Harold Guskin, James Gandolfini plays a kiddie-ride operator who remains emotionally crippled by a long-held secret.

It's a beautifully understated, fully inhabited performance that ranks among his most satisfying post-Sopranos work.

He's backed by a sturdy ensemble -- most notably Famke Janssen and Edoardo Costa -- but while the film itself, which premiered at Palm Springs, is stylistically reminiscent of the introspective '70s films of Bob Rafelson and Jerry Schatzberg, it has a habit of veering into sticky melodrama.

The story, penned by Sandra Jennings (Guskin's wife), actually begins in Paris, where Susan, a young American tourist (Maria Dizzia) strikes up a conversation with Jacques, a charismatic merry-go-round attendant (the charismatic Costa).

Cut to several months later, when the Frenchman meets up with Gandolfini's Bailey on the Jersey shoreline, introducing himself as the widowed newlywed husband of Bailey's sister and clutching an urn containing her ashes.

While Bailey can never quite convince himself that Jacques isn't a con artist (and, frankly, neither can we), he's also preoccupied with the plight of his lifelong soul mate and former sweetheart, Mary (Janssen), who's caught in an abusive marriage to the crack-addicted Wiley (Joe Pope), who also happens to be Bailey's childhood friend and amusement park landlord.

If all this sounds a tad much in print -- did we also mention Mary has an autistic teenaged son? -- the overstuffed script doesn't necessarily play out any less encumbered onscreen, especially where the subplots are concerned.

But there's a real, genuine spark to those often charged scenes between Gandolfini and Italian-born Costa (whose previous credits include Live Free or Die Hard and The Bold and the Beautiful), which manage to prevent the wind-swept Down the Shore from going down an all-too-convoluted path.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
Production companies: Jersey Shore Films, Lost Weekend Prods., Transmission Pictures
Cast: James Gandolfini, Famke Janssen, Joe Pope, Edoardo Costa, Maria Dizzia
Director: Harold Guskin
Screenwriter: Sandra Jennings
Executive producer: Joe Pope
Director of photography: Richard Rutkowski
Production designer: Mary Frederickson
Music: Andrea Morricone
Costume designer: Michael Bevins
Editor: Andrew Ford
No Rating, 90 minutes