fulfils the promise of writer-director James Gray's debut film, Little Odessa
, proving that Gray is a mature storyteller who attracts good actors and elicits their best work. Inspired by the experiences of his own father, he sets The Yards
inside the corrupt workings of the New York City railway system, in which men such as Frank Olchin (James Caan) maintain their dominance by sabotaging the work of their competitors. Mark Wahlberg is well cast as Leo Handler, who serves jail time for a crime he didn't commit and returns home to a warm welcome from his ailing mother (Ellen Burstyn), his aunt Kitty (and Frank's wife, played by Faye Dunaway), and cousin Erica (Charlize Theron).
He's also welcomed by his friend Willie (Joaquin Phoenix), who does most of Uncle Frank's dirty work and brings the needy Leo into his lucrative fold. Things go from bad to worse, and Leo's suspected in the killing of a railway official and the beating of a city patrolman. On the run, he uncovers the political machinations that keep Uncle Frank in power, and The Yards unfolds as a compelling tale of family, twisted loyalties, and the quest for truth. There's stellar work from everyone involved, but if The Yards has one major flaw, it's that Gray directs with a solemnity that's almost off-putting, as if a moment of levity would violate his story's integrity. Visually the movie invites comparison to The Godfather, and it boasts much of that film's moral complexity and depth of character, but it's too self-consciously heavy, and that compromises its overall impact. Still, this is good work from a talented director whose future films will be watched with interest. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com
DVD Special Features
Behind the scenes
Cast & crew interviews