Lumet Lite

The Yards borrows liberally from its predecessors, but that may not be a bad thing

By commercial necessity, I suppose, The Yards also contains a touch of frustrated romance. Leo has a thing for Willie's sultry girlfriend, Erica (Charlize Theron), despite the fact that she's apparently his first cousin. When Leo becomes a fugitive, it's Erica who stands by him, and while that's serviceable character development, the entire triangle seems a bit artificial. Theron is fine but the moviemakers might have been better off giving more screen time to Dunaway (Big Frank's deluded wife) and Burstyn (Leo's beleaguered mother), both of whom come across as authentic blue-collar Queens strivers.

A couple of young toughs (Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix) take their talents to the tracks
Eric Liebowitz
A couple of young toughs (Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix) take their talents to the tracks

For Caan's shtick alone The Yards is worthwhile, but we also may be witnessing the emergence, in Gray, of a young filmmaker who's just beginning to find the range. The self-consciousness of Little Odessa (all about Russian mobsters in Brighton Beach) has now given way to inspired mimicry, and we likely can expect more assurance and individuality next time around. For now glory in a terrific cast playing a Lumet-inspired tune straight off the streets of the Big Apple.

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