The Yards

Directed by James Gray
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, James Caan, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, Ellen Burstyn, Faye Dunaway.
MPAA Rating: R for language, violence and a scene of sexuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan
November 14, 2000

I've waited a long time to review The Yards. It was supposed to come out last year, after being filmed in the summer of 1998. The template for this review has been sitting around, waiting to be filled with my opinion. The film finally came out a few weeks ago, but I had been too busy to see it until last weekend. Now, two days after seeing the film, I have time to review it. I would like to think that I'll always remember The Yards as being a nice little crime drama, but this endless delay will always stick out in my mind. All right, I've delayed it for too long now. On with the review:

Mark Wahlberg stars as Leo Handler, a young man who just finished serving a 16-month sentence for auto theft. In an attempt to start his life over, he applies for a job with his uncle, Frank Olchin (James Caan), who runs a commuter rail business in New York. Frank is willing to bring him on as a trainee machinist, but Leo is more interested in working with his best friend, Willie Gutierrez (Joaquin Phoenix), who deals with suppliers and works for contracts. It's obviously the shady part of the business, and Frank doesn't want Leo getting involved, but Leo insists.

Willie is also the boyfriend of Erica (Charlize Theron), Leo's cousin and Frank's stepdaughter. Willie's job keeps him in a good deal of cash to spend on Erica, but Leo just wants a part of that to help care for his sick mother (Ellen Burstyn). The situation becomes much more complicated when Willie takes Leo to the rail yards for some "business". Willie ends up killing the yardmaster and Leo beats a cop into a coma. When the cop wakes up, Leo is a murder suspect, and must reconsider his loyalties to the family.

It's a pretty basic story of corruption in the city, highlighted by some moments of high drama. It's this punctuation that keeps the film moving instead of getting stuck in the particulars of the rail business. There are many genuine surprises, and they don't feel contrived or manipulative.

The film probably didn't need such a good cast, but they still show up and keep the film from getting lost in its genre. Wahlberg is perfectly cast as an understated kid with a troubled past. There was a certain honesty to the performance that I admired. What really threw me was the sudden appearance of Steve Lawrence as some sort of city official. He's not really an actor, and he only made me wonder, Where's Eydie Gormé?

There's nothing extraordinary, really, about The Yards, but it is better than most of the film out right now. I don't know why Miramax has put it in limited release, considering some of the crap they have sent to thousands of screens. I know that most people over 13 would appreciate this film more than Charlie's Angels. Or maybe not. It seems that everybody wants vapid commercial entertainment. Well, if that's what sells, then that's all we'll get someday -- just don't blame me when it happens.

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The Yards (2000)

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The Yards (2000) -- VHS
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The Yards: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc Home
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