Urban Cinefile
"I'll keep doing it for a while but I've got other interests and one day I may just say to hell with it. Then again I may not - "  -Clint Eastwood at 70
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg), has been released on parole. He took the rap for his buddies in a car theft case and he's welcomed home by the old crew who promise to look after him in return for his loyalty. Leo's sickly mother Val (Ellen Burstyn) just wants to live long enough to see her boy make good. Val's sister Kitty (Faye Dunaway) is married to second husband Frank Olchin (James Caan), a train repair contractor involved in shady dealings who finds Leo work in his yards. Leo's best friend Willie Guttierez (Joaquin Phoenix) also works for Frank and is engaged to Erica (Charlize Theron). During a raid on a competitor's yard Willie kills a nightwatchamn and Leo beats a cop unconscious. Framed for the murder, Leo goes on the run while also falling in love with Erica.

"The ambiguity surrounding characters and their actions in The Yards makes it something special. The story of a kid who's trying to go straight after a stretch in prison is hardly new but the manner in which it's told makes for a fresh and absorbing study of honour and betrayal in an extended family living on the fringe of the law in New York City. Take the character of Frank: here's a guy whose business is repairing and manufacturing anything and everything used on the New York subways and he's not above making payoffs to ensure his company secures contracts. In a lesser film Frank might have been the outright villain but we're presented by the kind of moral dilemma that will reappear in many guises as the drama unfolds. Unless Frank is willing to corrupt and be corrupted he'll be out of business, replaced by someone who will hand out the green notes. It's a part of life in the big city. The police, local politicians and other company bosses all know the drill and while it might not be right, it works. Leo, too, isn't presented as a straight-up hero but a man with limited education who's stumbling along trying to sort his life out. His dilemma is greater now because a murder he didn't commit has upped the stakes to life and death proportions. If he takes the rap for Willie he's finished. If he can prove the truth, everyone is finished. As the wheels turn inexorably on Willie and Leo, The Yards takes on a similar feel to Martin Scorcese's 1973 classic Mean Streets, another film about best friends trapped in something too big and knowing that one of them will have to pay. An added complication here is the duo's rivalry for Erica, played with a perfect blend of tough and tender by the impressive Charlize Theron. Even in this traditional component of a frequently told story there is an uncertainty that gives the film poignancy and the feeling that anything might happen. This low-key, moody film is superbly performed by a stellar cast. Mark Wahlberg is now beyond doubt one of America's finest young actors and brings a melancholy quality to Leo that makes his character quietly compelling. Veterans Caan, Burstyn and Dunaway relish the opportunity to inhabit full-blooded characters and each turns in fine work. I liked The Yards for many reasons but primarily for it's refusal to fit neatly into a slot. It looks like we've seen this all before but this has life and directions of its own that make it very rewarding viewing."
Richard Kuipers

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CAST: Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, James Caan, Ellen Burstyn, Faye Dunaway

DIRECTOR: James Gray

PRODUCER: Paul Webster, Nick Wechsler, Kerry Orent
SCRIPT: James Gray, Matt Reeves
EDITOR: Jeffrey Ford
MUSIC: Howard Shore
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes



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