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After being imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, Leo Handler just wants to get his life back on track, so he heads home to take a job in the New York City subway yards, where his highly connected Uncle Frank now runs the show. He meets up with his old childhood friend, Willie Guitierrez, his cousin, and his girlfriend, Erica, and for once he feels settled and safe. He soon discovers, however,...
For more about The Yards and the The Yards Blu-ray release, see the The Yards Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on April 16, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, James Caan, Ellen Burstyn, Faye Dunaway
Director: James Gray
» See full cast & crew
The Yards Blu-ray Review
Improper framing lessens an otherwise decent video transfer.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, April 16, 2011
You got this under control?
The Yards is a fairly conventional, unimaginative Crime Drama centered around dirty business, shady characters, raw deals, and bad luck. It's a dark, noir-inspired picture that's not a "whodunit" -- mystery isn't its middle name -- but instead a film about people thrust into bad situations and feverishly working to make wrongs right, even if, in the end, there is no real "right" in the "wrongs" that drive the plot. It's not about atonement but instead setting the record straight, even when the system -- more than one system, actually, both built up through equal parts back-room corruption and honest public works and dealings -- sets out to hide and alter the truth for the sake of the whole rather than the life, integrity, and freedom of the one. In The Yards, there are no real heroes and villains, just different shades of gray; nobody is innocent, all are to some degree complicit, and it's about sifting through the degrees to find the real heart of the problem and the truly guilty rather than pinning the collective wrongs of all on a fall guy who is himself no angel but certainly not the monster he's made to be.
Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter) has just been released from prison, serving several years for a crime he didn't commit. Looking to turn his life around, settle down, find honest work, and make a place for himself in the world, he takes his friend Willie's (Joaquin Phoenix, Signs) advice and seeks work from his uncle Frank (James Caan, The Way of the Gun) who runs a rail yard repair firm in Queens. It's good work, but Frank -- as the competition dictates -- doesn't run what would pass muster as an honest business. Shady dealings and routine sabotage are fair game in the yards, and when Willie and Leo do a job that goes bad and leads to a murdered yard worker and a beaten police officer, Leo is labeled the prime suspect and must fight to clear his name while on the run, even if it means bringing down Frank at the end of the day.
The Yards sports an utterly fantastic cast; a roll sheet of Wahlberg, Phoenix, Caan, Theron, Dunaway, and Burstyn all but guarantee an audience, but is there a reason to watch other than the A-list of names that ignite the marquee? Unfortunately, The Yards just isn't quite as impressive as its cast roster, even if the actors do all they can with a solid but not particularly clever, purposeful, or even memorable story. Mark Wahlberg -- easily one of the most underrated actors going and certainly one of the best musicians-turned-screen actors going (along with Ice Cube and Dwight Yoakam) -- plays the part of Leo with the same kind of quiet, reserved nature he demonstrates in so many of his other films. He's an expert at playing a character with a shady history who wants to break free from the limitations of his life but who never quite gets a handle on how to do so and in whom he can trust to lead him in the right direction and not send him spiraling back down into the depths of despair from which he's tried so hard to escape. A hint of shyness, a quiet demeanor, and a mental toughness all countered by an innate weakness to withstand the temptations that lead back down the wrong way of the road all define Wahlberg's Leo character and the sort of person he plays so well in several of his films.
The Yards does work well enough as a midlevel Crime Drama, but the picture fails to be anything more thanks to a limited scope and even less ambition. Despite a pretty good look -- Director James Gray (We Own the Night, a picture in which he would reunite Wahlberg and Phoenix) and Cinematographer Harris Savides (American Gangster) paint the picture with darkly entrancing brush strokes that give the movie a foreboding, uneasy feeling of creeping instability and impending disaster -- the story is simply too generic, and the contrast between the wonderful style and the paint-by-numbers plot is often jarring if not debilitating. The action isn't bad but the story gives out its lumps with the impact of a Nerf bat; bad business -- favoring roughhousing and payoffs over clean books and cleaner consciences -- spiraling out of control into murder, deception, anger, hate, and violence is nothing really new, and for as well as The Yards may be acted and as strong as its look may be, the picture just can't escape the generalities that leave it floundering as a relatively good movie that might have been more but that's destined to become lost behind better pictures of the same kind.
The Yards Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Yards arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer, severely cropped down from its original 2.39:1 wide aspect ratio. With that out of the way and pulling down the score quite a bit, how does the cropped transfer fair? Despite the aspect ratio faux pas, The Yards doesn't fare too poorly. This is a somewhat soft, hazy image by its very nature, and quite dark at times, too. Detail isn't superb -- it's mostly bland, in fact -- and viewers hoping for a sharp, well-defined image won't find one. Still, skin and clothing textures fare well enough in extreme close-up shots and under the right lighting conditions, but viewers shouldn't expect much more. Ditto colors; this is a dim, visually unattractive film that eschews a bright palette in an effort to reinforce its darker themes, but well-lit shots reveal a nicely balanced color scheme, usually as seen in the same scenes that also house the best raw detailing available. Grain is retained over the image and actually adds a nice cinematic texture to the transfer. A few speckles and scratches, crushed blacks, and of course the crop job drag the score down, but The Yards looks fairly good all things considered, and would certainly rank quite a bit higher if it were presented in its proper aspect ratio.
The Yards Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Yards makes its Blu-ray debut with a bland, inconsequential DTS-HD MA 2.0 lossless soundtrack. A wider 5.1 mix might have served it better, allowing it to open up and maybe capture some more of the subtleties of the listening experience, but as it is this is a workmanlike presentation that will get listeners through the movie but nothing more. It often plays like a lightweight soundtrack with no real desire to broaden its horizons. Cramped, unpolished music; squishy ambience; and tinny dialogue are all characteristics that negatively impact the soundtrack. It does display a fairly aggressive low end at times, and a club scene in chapter three serves up a fair bit of energy that even approaches something resembling real clarity, but the track is usually a dull, uninteresting one that will probably disappoint all but the easiest-to-please of listeners.
The Yards Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are included.
The Yards Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Yards looks good and is well-acted, but a fairly routine story leads to diminished returns in place of something a bit more thematically and emotionally profitable. Director James Gray's picture is probably about as good as it can be given the unoriginal storyline; it's certainly worth a watch if for no other reasons than its sharp styling and excellent cast, but viewers will probably still leave at least partially disappointed with the end result. Echo Bridge's Blu-ray release of The Yards is, too, likely to disappoint. The Blu-ray has apparently been cropped to a 1.78:1 "HDTV full frame" aspect ratio rather than presented in its original wide format. The lossless soundtrack is of the two-channel variety, and no extras have been included. A better presentation -- even without extras -- might have warranted a recommendation at the release's current bargain price point, but sad to say this is one to rent only, if that.
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• Four Miramax Movies Coming up on Blu-ray - March 18, 2011
Early retailer information indicates that, on May 3, Echo Bridge Entertainment will release on Blu-ray four movies from the Miramax/Dimension catalog: The Crow: City of Angels, From Dusk Till Dawn, Halloween H2O and The Yards. No release details are available at ...
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