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It is hard to understand why this film couldn't command better distribution
than it did. It has a bankable cast, a strong story and a realistic
presentation. It is a raw and dark story about corruption by contractors
supplying the transit system in New York City. Parts of the story are all
too familiar and the entire film is very Godfatheresque. However, while
`The Godfather' glorified organized crime, this film gives a much grittier
view of the dirty deals and conniving, stripped of the Hollywood veneer.
That is precisely what I liked about it, and in all likelihood, it is the
reason that it foundered on the market.
Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg) is just returning home from prison on a car theft conviction when the movie opens. He is repentant and sincerely wants to go straight. The deck is stacked against him though, because everyone he knows other than his mother (Ellen Burstyn), aunt (Faye Dunaway) and cousin (Charlize Theron) is corrupt. Leo applies for a job with his uncle Frank (James Caan) who is a contractor supplying parts to the New York subway system. He is reunited with an old friend, Willie Gutierrez (Joaquin Phoenix) who is currently working for Frank. Willie is eyeball deep in shady deals including the sabotage of other suppliers. One night a sabotage mission goes wrong and Leo assaults a policeman while trying to escape the scene. A manhunt ensues and both the cops and Leo's uncle are trying to hunt him down. With sinister intent, Uncle Frank wants to find him first so he won't blow the lid on the crooked dealings.
The story, written and directed by James Gray, delves into various character studies that bog down at times. However, speaking as a person who once lived there, it is an excellent rendering of New York attitudes and mannerisms, and includes plenty of not-so-glamorous shots of New York's seething underbelly. This is a New Yorker's eye view of the city, far from the glitz of Broadway, Wall Street and the art galleries. It shows the competitiveness and machismo of a segment of society known only to the locals.
The acting by the ensemble cast is outstanding. All the players capture the essence of the New York middle class gestalt beautifully. Mark Wahlberg delivers a somber but resolute character trapped in a vortex of graft and corruption. His performance is understated yet powerful. James Caan is one of the best at playing the small-time racketeer and he nails it again with his portrayal of the dirty dealing supplier. Joaquin Phoenix also shines as Willie, giving him a macho personality and the ability to rationalize any act according to his own code of morality. The cast includes Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn and Charlize Theron in strong supporting roles. Steve Allen makes an extended cameo as the tainted commissioner.
This film is excellent and has been sadly overlooked by the distributors and the public. I rated it a 9/10 despite a somewhat familiar storyline, because the presentation is so precise and the style so un-sanitized. The film has a real New York feeling to it, especially recognizable to anyone who has lived there. It has my vote for the sleeper of 2000.
The Yards is labelled a thriller, at least here in Sweden, but I think that this movie is a drama more than anything else. A very dark drama about crime and family. I was pleasantly surprised when I realised that this was not the Godfather-wannabe that some people have suggested. The Yards stands on its own, and even though it is no masterpiece it is a very interesting and tense drama with a great cast. Mark Wahlberg does a good job, but Joaquin Phoenix is certainly the stand-out. Also, his complex character is by far more interesting than Wahlberg's stereotype. Great performances from Charlize Theron and James Caan as well. (7/10)
"The Yards" invites you to taste corruption and to witness an imposed morality and then slyly allows you to resolve its escalating entanglements. It is a well-acted morality tale written and directed by James Gray that is as topical now as when the first bureaucrat accepted graft. Mark Wahlberg's Leo Handler character is a loser who seeks to redeem himself from the neglect of his sick mother and the evil he has done to others. If only his friends and relatives had similarly good intentions. The world he inhabits is a society with the unwritten code of conduct to never snitch or else pay the consequences. The best scene involves Leo as he nervously proceeds with his orders to kill the policeman who can finger him in the rail yard assault. Can he justify yet one more crime in order to maintain the good graces of his benefactors? Joaquin Phoenix's character, Willie, is perhaps the most tormented figure, having to choose between his high-minded intentions and his immoral survival instincts. He becomes less the controller and more the henchman of what others tell him to do. The excellent cast gives "The Yard" a true flavor of the perverse nature of favoritism from Faye Dunaway and James Caan to Ellen Burstyn and Charlize Theron (in a surprisingly youthful dark mascara look). However, Joan Allen would have added a harsher, more pessimistic visage to the sometimes inappropriately bubbly Burstyn. This film displays well how corruption commands people's lives and how hard it is to break out of that code of conduct.
The yards is a film about the shady on-goings of the contractors in New York
City who work to rebuild the city's subway cars.
Underneath the suits are ruthless mean trying to get ahead in the busines by
whatever means necassary.
Everything seems to be going fine until Leo Handler (Wahlberg) gets out of
prison and enters into the dark business himself, his presence will trigger
a series of events that will rock their dangerous world.
Leo finds that his aunt (Dunaway) has married one of the biggest contractors, Frank Olchin (Caan). With no money and a patrol officer breathing down his back, his mother (Burstyn) in bad shape, Leo turns to Frank to help him out by giving him a job in his successful business. Leo wants to follow in his best friend, Willie's (Phoenix) footsteps in the business, 'cause it seems Willie is doing ok for himself, with enough cash to spare for his girlfriend (Theron) and consequently Leo's cousin and one-time-love. But when a money-deal goes wrong, Willie kills a yard-master and Leo beats a cop into a coma - something that could see him revisiting prison and getting a life sentence. Now Leo is on the run, and blamed for the murder aswell. The business that welcomed him with open arms, is now looking to get rid of him, before he brings down all they worked for.
The Yards is slow at times. The story-telling appears to go at a snails pace, but thats ok, because the story-tellers (the actors) are more than enthralling enough to entertain for the whole 110 minutes. Wahlberg is deep and moody as always, and while the performance mirrors alot of his previous works, he still seems to have 'something' that keeps you hooked. Theron proves she is more than just a pretty face as she plays a soft-spoken character who has much to hide and slowly reveal as the plot thickens. But the out-standing performance is Joaquin Phoenix. This man can do no wrong and is seriously one of the best actors of our time. He is disturbingly dark at times, but can easily switch gears and play-out the most emotionally intense scene with just a single tear running down his cheek. this man is amazing, and one day justice should be carried out and he should be handed an Oscar.
Watch this film, if for nothing more than to check out the Wahlberg/Phoenix punch-up which the actors really participated in (and were apparently black and blue the next day). Great, great film.
The Yards is simply one of those classic movies rare to find these days.
Unfortunately it hasn't achieved much success (At least in my country), and
that's a crying shame. I really can't see why, because it's got everything
that makes a movie good (Great acting, a great cast, and a well-developed
storyline). This is one of those films I need to see again just for the
pleasure of it.
Nothing else to say, simply watch it whenever you have the chance. You won't be disappointed.
The cast and acting in this crime/drama is great, but the actors are
let down by a melodramatic script that is too busy. "The Yards" is a
character-driven story, but the problem is that the script has too many
subplots going on which doesn't give us the time we need to know and
care about the characters. By the end I really didn't care what
happened, because I didn't know the characters and didn't care how the
plot was resolved.
Basically "The Yards" tells the story of Leo, a working class young man who returns home from a stint in prison to his ailing mother. His best friend, Willie, takes him on at Leo's step-uncle's subway train outfitting business, where things aren't exactly above-the-board. Leo gets more involved in the business and things go awry. And along the way, there's a hundred and one subplots.
This movie had some nice moments, and great acting, but it can't rise above a script that tries to pack too much plot into too little time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What is interesting about Grey's picture is the use of understatement to emphasize the complexity of negotiated relationships in the New York world where mob business and city administration intersect. Wahlberg's comparative lack of expressiveness suits his role as a minor crook out of jail and wanting to go straight; it's echoed in his mother's passivity, and her statement that the two of them have this in common. He's not stupid, but he's tentative as he emerges from jail back into the world; his uncle is willing to help, but has complex and risky operations that make him cautious. In any event, Wahlberg's tentativeness leads him instead to his old and apparently warm friend, who's grown into slack opportunism (as his uncle clearly knows, and would like to keep his nephew away from). When the friend stupidly kills the yard manager, he tries to spare his pal, but finally lets the latter take the rap and run off (in violation of his parole). The film gets interesting at this point: one expects Wahlberg to be the victim, but he has figured out that he's been set up, that even his uncle is willing to have him killed to cover up the crime, and that he's got to drop his earlier loyalties and figure out a way to clear and protect himself at the same time. The solution is a real New York compromise between truth and justice: the identifying cop is paid off, the real crook kills his true love inadvertently and, crushed with anguish, is taken. Wahlberg has set himself right with the law, probably will be used by one side or the other of the warring tracks manufacturing moguls, crime and bribery continue as always in the Big Apple. What's refreshing about the picture is its calmness of tone -- the violence is justified but not overdone, the acting has the assurance of real people doing what they must. Poor photography at times -- confusing shots which add to the difficulty of following a complex plot. But it's a better picture than comments suggest.
Many consider the film noir to have died in 1958 after Orson Welles made
Touch of Evil. It was deemed so perfect that no one really took a stab at
true noir again. However, in the late 60's and early 70's, the noir revived
as the crime film. It was less mysterious and relied more on criminals and
such. Since Polanski's Chinatown in 1974, many movies inspire themselves
from noir. The Yards is one of them.
Leo (Mark Wahlberg) is a young man just out of prison for car theft. He goes back home one night to find his family and friends throwing a party for him. Now that he is out of jail, Leo is looking for a job. He arranges with his friend Willie (Joaquin Phoenix) to try and get a job at Leo's uncle's (James Caan) company where Willie works. Willie is dating Leo's cousin by marriage, Erica (Charlize Theron). The family is completed by Erica's mother, played by Faye Dunaway, and Leo's mother, played by Ellen Burstyn. Leo goes to meet his uncle, who tells him that he would be perfect as a mechanic, but he'd have to take a two-year course. Leo wants the same job as his friend, which consists of `dealing with customers.' One night, he and Willie go out to negotiate and their deal turns awry. Soon, Leo is wanted for murder. But he didn't do it. Or did he? No, he didn't. Maybe he did. Watch the movie.
As in most film noir (and film noir inspirations), the plot is hard to follow. The story is intriguing enough to warrant a movie, but the way it is handled is less impressive. I have no idea what is done, but the movie manages to make the viewer drift away completely from the plot. Frequent plot changes take us to Leo's mother. Leo's mother is boring. All she does really is try and not have a heart attack. It's a shame when a gifted actress like Ellen Burstyn is given such a bare bones part.
Mark Wahlberg seems to have bitten off more than he can chew as Leo. While he has shown great talent in Boogie Nights and Three Kings, he seems `out of it' here. Charlize Theron shows pretty much the same talents as in The Devil's Advocate, that is, sobbing a lot and taking off her shirt. Dunaway and Burstyn, two grand actresses and Oscar-winners, are given very small, pointless roles. I could've very well seen anyone else in the part and the movie wouldn't have been spoiled for me. Phoenix comes out best as the slimy Willie. He is really one to watch, much more than Heath Ledger who may get girls ga-ga, but couldn't act his way out of a wet paper bag. James Caan, on a Hollywood comeback since Mickey Blue Eyes, also gives a good performance in the handful of scenes he is in.
The Yards has much better mood than matter. The feeling of paranoia is well achieved, partly because of the brooding score, good photography and nice lighting tricks. However, the story is derivative and confused, the performances are so-so and the whole experience is sloppy. They get points for trying, but it never becomes as compelling as it should be. 5/10
. . . you know you've got a movie that tried something
Not NEW, necessarily, as The Yards is paced, structured and shot like it was
made before 1976. But you don't see that often these days.
The Yards is an entertaining and noble attempt at a tribute to crime films
of that era.
I have friends who don't have the attention span to sit through The
Godfather(on some days neither do I) - I wouldn't recommend this film to
them. Reared as our younger generation was on Spielbergian and MTV-cut
films, the pacing of both that film and The Yards are slow and deliberate -
sometimes hard to take. The Yards could have used a bit of tightening up in
editing, just seconds off of a scene here, a scene there to move things
along, but still, it's a strong film.
The first thing that caught my eye was the sparse dialogue. There's a lot
of acting going on here, and not of the scenery-chewing variety (recent
Pacino). The actors are given a lot of room to act with their eyes and
bodies. You're not hit over the head with 2-D stock characters, although it
may appear so at first. The story is genre: ex-con, returning to his New
York borough neighborhood falls right into the same circles that got him in
trouble in the first place. What follows is a story of corruption,
redemption and family; structured almost as a Greek Tragedy. But quietly.
There are no "good guys" or "bad guys", as almost everyone is on the make.
The overall impression projected is that everyone is protecting their own
and trying to succeed in a system that they live in - not one they created
Mark Wahlberg isn't a great actor, but he delivers what the character requires. Charlize Theron isn't in her element playing a Queens-chick, but aside from a faltering accent, she does pretty well. Excellent acting is delivered by Joachin Phoenix, as well as veterans Caan, Dunaway, and Ellen Burstyn. The Yards is a good movie, although admittedly, not for the "average" movie-going audience. It likely won't meet their expectations of what a "good" movie is.
Imagine a painting hanging in a museum. It's a masterfully rendered
portrait of a family, a house in the background. Maybe a lake off to one
side. The picture is absolutely flawless, and if you merely glance at it, or
even give it the once-over, you can recognize it as a picture of a house and
a family, and move on.
But if you stop to look at it, it's not quite perfect. The color of a scarf clashes with the rest of mom's outfit. That squirrel in the tree only has three legs. Little things to let you know that the artist, while talented, still hasn't perfected his craft. Or, more likely, if the painting weren't so excellently rendered, you wouldn't be able to point out the scarf, or the squirrel, or any of the finer details.
Like this painting, we have "The Yards," a story centering on Leo Handler (Wahlberg), freshly released from prison and trying to look after himself and his mother. The story is well-told, the characters (with the exception of Dunaway) are carefully acted, and this character-driven drama is fascinating to watch.
But taken as a whole, parts of the film were just overlooked. Wahlberg acts with a blank stare, his character just as dumb as his character in "Boogie Nights." None of the female characters exist for any reason except for the audience to feel pity for them. Every death is predictable, minutes before it happens. And the entire story spirals into such a depressing destination, I can't at all think of who I could recommend this film to. It was well-made, but James Gray would do better as a playwright with material like this.
An exquisitely well-made, beautifully directed film. The pictures are wonderful and the performances are excellent, but be warned that this film is a serious, serious downer. May the director find lighter material soon.
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