Yards, The

Rated: R
Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, James Caan

The New York City subway yards are the gloomy setting for this gripping tale of an ex-con trying to get a new lease on life, who instead, falls into a dark hole of secrecy and sabotage.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Leo Handler, who’s just been released from prison after taking the fall for a group of friends, among them, Willie Gutierrez (Joaquin Phoenix). He goes home to his mother’s house, believing that he’s got a good job waiting, courtesy of Aunt Kitty’s (Faye Dunaway) new husband Frank (James Caan) who owns a company that contracts with the city for subway repairs and maintenance.

But Frank doesn’t offer him a job outright and, desperate to make ends meet, Leo takes Willie up on his offer to work beside him on the “business end” in Frank’s company. Leo needs to keep his hands clean but right from the start, it’s obvious that the “business end” entails pay-offs and manhandling the competition for city contracts. Leo soon gets caught up in the murder of a railyard manager and the battery of a cop. How he manages to cope when everyone, including friend Willie and “uncle” Frank come gunning for him, is wonderfully suspenseful.

The acting is superb throughout. Walhberg is magically subtle as he faces dilemma and disappointment. Ellen Burstyn is quite touching as his ailing and loving mother Val who keeps a tidy little apartment. Look for Charlize Theron as caring cousin Erica. Caan is always good. But especially intriguing is Phoenix’ Willie who plays the rat to Leo, at the same time, displaying a very deep affection for Erica. His performance proves striking in subtlety and complexity when you can still feel sorry for him at the end.

Lotta says “The Yards” is an excellent story, filled with interesting characters and excellent performances.