Plot: What’s it about?
When Leo Harrison (Mark Wahlberg) was taken in on grand theft auto charges, he took the heat and refused to turn in his friend and fellow criminal, Willie (Joaquin Phoenix). After he was released, Leo plans to get back on track and stay out of trouble, but of course, that proves to be harder than ever. He soon takes a job from his Uncle Frank (James Caan), working as a construction assistant in the rail yards. Frank has a good business, but he is always in competition with a rival, Puerto Rican firm, so he has to remain on guard at all times. Leo soon meets back up with Willie also, who works under Frank as well, so the two begin to spend more time together. Willie soon shows the darker side of the business to Leo, who finds himself in a place he doesn’t want to be, the wrong side of the law. He soon becomes involved in a botched sabotage operation, which ends with him as the prime suspect in a murder case. On the run and with few people that believe him, can Leo prove his innocence, or is he doomed to return to prison once again?
I think The Yards caught some viewers off guard in theaters, with a crime based storyline and a loaded cast. This movie follows your basic crime plot, but focuses more on the people involved, as opposed to action based elements. I think that approach works well, but some might be thrown off by the slower pace, even though the time is well spent. But even when the pace gets too slow, you can always soak up the performances, by the star studded cast found in The Yards. Such names as James Caan, Ellen Burstyn, Charlize Theron, Joaquin Phoenix, and Mark Wahlberg can be found in this flick, all in more than solid form. But even with this superb cast, solid writing, and James Gray’s able direction, The Yards never manages to push to the next level. It seems like we’ve seen this kind of movie many times before and while The Yards is good, it just isn’t great. But genre fans should give it a rental and since Buena Vista has issued a fine disc, I see no reason not to give this release a fair recommendation.
As she continues her career, I think Charlize Theron continues to improve, as well as get her hands on more substantial roles. I wouldn’t say this is one of those roles, but it gives her a chance to show off at times, which she does with ease. I think Theron has amassed a pretty large fan base due to her good looks, but she is also a competent performer and as such, I think her presence adds a lot to any picture. And in case you’re curious, she once again reveals her womanly assets and that is always good, if you ask me. You can also see Theron in such films as The Cider House Rules, Sweet November, Men of Honor, Trial and Error, Reindeer Games, and The Devil’s Advocate. The cast also includes Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, Three Kings), James Caan (The Godfather, Rollerball), Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream, The Exorcist), and Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, To Die For).
Video: How does it look?
The Yards is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This film uses a very specific contrast scheme, so if the black levels seem on the light side, don’t be concerned, this is how it was intended. I was taken back at first also, but the washed out hues are intentional, so no complaints in the end. The colors also seem muted and reserved, but once again, that is how it is supposed to look. I did see some problems however, such as frequent edge enhancement and a couple spots of compression errors, a bit of a let down to be sure. I am pleased the film’s intended visual style is preserved, but I was more care was taken, to solve the smaller problems that surface at times.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included Dolby Digital 5.1 is more than solid, but don’t expect a demo level experience from this material. A few scenes do spark the surrounds, but on the whole, this is a rather subdued mix and I think that suits the material involved. Aside from the few more powerful sequences, there’s also some very good subtle use, which adds to the atmosphere. The music sounds smooth and well presented also, while dialogue is crisp and clean at all times. This disc also includes a French language track, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main attraction here is an audio commentary track with director James Gray, who provides a most interesting session. Gray is very talkative and leaves few silent spaces, filling the running time with informative and insightful comments. I think this track enhanced my opinion of the film and as such, I think it deserves a listen. This disc also includes a brief behind the scenes featurette, some concept artwork, and the film’s theatrical trailer.