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The Yards

By Jack Purdy | Posted

With a great cast, including James Caan, Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn, and Joaquin Phoenix, plus a gritty story line centered on municipal corruption in New York subway contracting, The Yards has all the makings of a tough urban thriller. But director James Gray (who co-wrote with Matt Reeves) must have gotten his cast get in the mood by making them watch a Martin Scorsese film festival. Because almost every male performer, most especially the putative lead Mark Wahlberg, talks in a breathy, tough-guy mumble that works with actors who can actually articulate (like Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro), but in this case will have most of the audience rushing to an audiologist when the lights go up. Indeed, Wahlberg strives so much for "authenticity" as paroled car thief Leo Handler that he's virtually a blank on the screen. As his best pal, Phoenix is far more dynamic, creating the most dangerous kind of bad guy--one who's ambitious and stupid and impulsive. Caan, as Leo's uncle-- a man who gets contracts in a way Boss Tweed would approve--is wonderfully subtle. He's not evil, but the inevitable product of a system in which everyone has his hand out. Burstyn and Dunaway add class to the proceedings as Leo's mother and aunt, respectively. And there's a chance for an enjoyable double take when crooner Steve Lawrence shows up as the president of the borough of Queens. But the whole atmosphere is way too old-time Noo Yawk in this era of Il Duce Rudy Giuliani. The Yards plays like it was ripped from today's headlines--if today happens to be 1981.

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