We gave it a C
New York is a town without pity in The Yards, a drama about corruption in the city’s transit system that’s not only hard boiled but also dipped in egg batter dialogue and deep fried. The NYC cooked up by director James Gray (who romanticized Russian wiseguy culture and borough gloom in ”Little Odessa”) is an old recipe of mean streets, dirty cops, and dance clubs where the lights always pulse red. It’s a carefully manicured place just down the street from ”On the Waterfront,” just over the river from ”The Godfather”’s house. And it’s populated by haggard, blinkered mothers like Val Handler (Ellen Burstyn), whose devoted, none too swift son Leo (Mark Wahlberg) has just been sprung from prison. ”She?s not doin’ too well. Her heart is getting weaker. The last couppla years’a been pretty hard on her,” Leo’s aunt (Faye Dunaway) uh-ohs her nephew at his welcome home party.
Leo intends to do right and take care of his weak hearted mama. ”You know I can’t get into no trouble,” he tells his best friend, Willie Gutierrez (Joaquin Phoenix), a shifty smoothie who promptly leads Leo to nothing but: Working for Leo’s highly connected, highly compromised uncle Frank (James Caan) and his subway contracting business, Willie entices Leo to help sabotage a competitor one night in the subway yards. Things go very, very, very wrong.
”I’m gonna knock you right into the middle of next week,” a toughie threatens, and it’s just such ”middle of next week” posturing that undoes Gray’s deep dish story (cowritten with Matt Reeves). Phoenix entertains with his highly effective ”Gladiator” combo of weakness and malice, Wahlberg recycles his tough but sweet repertoire, Caan has fun playing a big shot, and Charlize Theron tawks da tawk as Leo’s somnambulantly sexy cousin (and Willie’s girlfriend), Erica, but for what? For a slice of NYC made with imitation cheese? To quote Erica: ”Whaddayadooinheah?”