The Yards

USA 2000

Reviewed by Geoffrey Macnab


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Leo Handler arrives back in New York after four years in prison. He takes a job with his Uncle Frank who runs a local subway company. His old friend Willie Gutierrez takes him under his wing. Leo joins Willie and his gang on an expedition to vandalise train stock belonging to a rival company. Willie has an argument with a night-watchman who will no longer take his bribes. When the night-watchman lets off the alarm, Willie stabs him dead. A police officer turns up and catches Leo; Leo bludgeons the officer unconscious and escapes.

Willie infers to Frank that Leo killed the night-watchman. He tries to persuade Leo to murder the police officer, who is in hospital in a coma. Instead, Leo goes into hiding. His sickly mother is devastated to learn he is in trouble again. Willie's girlfriend Erica, who is Frank's stepdaughter, begins to suspect that Leo is being stitched up. Frank arranges to meet and help Leo. At the rendezvous, Leo realises Frank has a gun and flees.

Leo and Willie have a fight. Willie's relationship with Erica (who was Leo's childhood sweetheart) rapidly deteriorates. They have a bitter row; pushed over a banister by Willie, Erica falls to her death. Leo gets in touch with a rival train company and tells them what he knows about Frank's business methods. He agrees to give himself up to the police. At a special hearing, he blows the whistle on Frank and his cronies.


Self-consciously elegiac, The Yards is a slow-burning but meticulously crafted family melodrama posing as a thriller. Writer-director James Gray (making his second feature after 1994's Little Odessa) sets his story in Queens, New York, but neither the location nor the plot - which touches on political corruption and industrial sabotage - is the mainspring here. Gray is far more preoccupied with the relationships between the various family members at the heart of his film than with his ostensible subject matter - the battle to control New York's subway.

The opening shot, a close-up of an earnest-looking Leo, played by Mark Wahlberg, aboard a train taking him home after four years in prison, sets the tone: he is the outsider being drawn back into a community whose rules he doesn't fully understand. As if to emphasise his uncertainty, Gray keeps the look of the film dark: there are several power cuts, everyone seems to dress in muted colours, even Howard Shore's majestic, sombre score adds to the prevailing mood of solemnity. While it is apparent from the outset that Leo is a good lad at heart - he dotes on his ailing mother - it is also obvious that his wicked uncle and his best friend Willie, Cain to his Abel, will lead him astray. We can guess that the uncle is a scheming Machiavellian by the oblique way Gray frames him - he's often seen through half-open doors or at the end of corridors, schmoozing and cajoling. It's also hard to trust Willie: barely has Leo got out of prison than he sees him start fights in nightclubs and pay bribes to a stream of men in suits.

Gray's debt to The Godfather (1977) is obvious both in the casting of James Caan, who plays Leo's scheming uncle, and in his intense focus on family relations. At various points - as he creeps through the hospital or moves his sickly mother out of his apartment to escape killers - Leo even seems like a latter-day version of Al Pacino's equally conscientious, equally torn Michael Corleone. But whereas Coppola's film was set in the world of organised crime, The Yards, rather more prosaically, is about rival New York subway companies. In this regard, Gray's epic ambitions feel a little strained: it's hard to see crooked contractors and embezzling local-government officers as the tragic figures Gray intends. Nor does the denouement - in which Leo testifies against his own to a McCarthy-style hearing - carry the impact that might have been expected.

Where the film does register is as a study of a family torn apart by betrayal and bad faith. With few shoot-outs or kinetic action scenes, The Yards relies on the subtlety and intensity of the performances, most of which are excellent. Wahlberg is both feisty and vulnerable as the baffled ex-con; the saturnine-looking Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Willie, has a rare knack of making villainous characters seem sympathetic; Caan excels as the unscrupulous, thick-skinned fixer who pretends to be a dedicated family man but is willing to sacrifice a close relative for the sake of his business. If Gray risks going down a blind tunnel by paying so much attention to subway politics, he gets away with it through sheer dint of craftsmanship. Ultimately, The Yards is well enough acted and scripted to bear comparison with the character-driven films of the 70s it strives to emulate.


James Gray
Nick Wechsler
Paul Webster
Kerry Orent
James Gray
Matt Reeves
Director of Photography
Harris Savides
Jeffrey Ford
Production Designer
Kevin Thompson
Music/Music Conductor/
Howard Shore
© Miramax Film Corp
Production Companies
Miramax Films presents a Paul Webster/Industry Entertainment production
Executive Producers
Bob Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein
Jonathan Gordon
Matt Reeves
Christopher Goode
Production Associate
Roger Davies
Production Co-ordinator
Alyson Evans
Unit Production Manager
Victoria McGarry Lorino
Location Manager
Lys Hopper
Location Co-ordinator
Jonathan Silver
Post-production Supervisor
Isabel Henderson
Assistant Directors
David Wechsler
Linda Perkins
Chip Signore
Additional Photography Unit:
Sam Hill
Script Supervisor
Julie Oppenheimer
Douglas Aibel
Jordan Beswick
ADR Voice:
Leigh French
Camera Operator
Bruce MacCallum
Special Effects Co-ordinator
John Ottesen
Art Director
Judy Rhee
Set Decorator
Ford Wheeler
Costume Designer
Michael Clancy
Wardrobe Supervisors
Marcia Patten
Winsome McKoy
Key Artists:
Donald Mowat
Leslie Fuller
Rita Ogden
Key Stylist:
Wayne Herndon
James Post
Charles McKenna
Key Stylist, Additional Photography Unit:
Mary D'Angelo
Howard Anderson Company
Music Performed by
The London Philharmonic Orchestra
Music Supervisor
Dana Sano
Technical Supervisor
Robert Cotnoir
Music Co-ordinator
Bob Bowen
Music Editors
Annette Kudrak
Scott Stambler
Recording Engineer
Simon Rhodes
Auricle Operator
Chris Cozens
Music Consultant
Chris Spelman
"Boo-Go-Loo" - Les McCann; "I Can't Wait to Meetchu" - Macy Gray; "I'm Beginning to See the Light" - Peggy Lee; "R.E.A.L.I.T.Y." - KRS-One; "No One Is to Blame" - Howard Jones; "Saturn: The Bringer of Old" - Howard Shore; "Welcome to Tokyo, Otis Clay" - Clinton; "Samba de Janeiro"; "Affirmation" - George Benson; "Happy Shoppers" - D. Walter; "Somos el futuro"
Sound Design
Gary Rydstrom
Kyrsten Mate Comoglio
Production Sound Mixer
Tom Paul
Re-recording Mixers
Tom Johnson
Lora Hirschberg
Steve Romanko
Gabriel Guy
Supervising Sound Editor
Phil Benson
Dialogue Editors
Claire Graybill
Dianna Stirpe
Sound Effects Editor
Stephen Kearney
Don Murray
Kris Campbell
Supervising Editor:
Stephen Kearney
Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
Jana Vance
Denny Thorpe
Jonathan Null
Creative Associate
Christopher Spelman
Stunt Co-ordinator
Jery Hewitt
Ellen Burstyn
Val Handler
Faye Dunaway
Kitty Olchin
Joaquin Phoenix
Willie Gutierrez
Charlize Theron
Erica Stoltz
Mark Wahlberg
Leo Handler
James Caan
Frank Olchin
Victor Argo
Paul Lazarides
Victor Arnold
Albert Granada
Steve Lawrence
Arthur Mydanick
Tomas Milian
Manuel Sequiera
Tony Musante
Seymour Korman
Robert Montano
Hector Gallardo
Joseph Ragno
parole office
Chad Aaron
Bernard Stoltz
Andrew Davoli
Raymond Price
Louis Guss
Nathan Grodner
Domenick Lombardozzi
Joe Lisi
David Zayas
Officer Jerry Rifkin
Teresa Yenque
José Soto
John Tormey
contract officer
Teddy Coluca
Jack O'Connell
Sal Disipio
Dan Grimaldi
executive 1
Garry Pastore
Detective Tommasino
Ron Brice
Detective Boulett
Gene Canfield
Queensborough policeman
Keith Hernandez
baseball celebrity
Allan Houston
basketball celebrity
Andi Shrem
Joe Dimare
Barry Wetcher
young doctor
Oscar Colon
well-dressed man
Jace Kent
young Italian man
Brandon Danziger
Doug Barron
Floyd Resnick
hospital cop
Chris Edwards
Raymond Seiden
police officers
Annika Pergament
Maxmiliano Hernandez
Kip Evans
John Elsen
Douglas Crosby
Scott Nicholson
policeman 1
Kim Merritt
Todd's girlfriend
Erin Walls
Dante's girlfriend
Tyree Simpson
Peter Vallone
Irwin Gray
Denise Traficanti
Roma Torre
Louis Dodley
Ernie Anastos
news anchors
Film Four Distributors
10,027 feet
115 minutes 41 seconds
Colour by
2.35:1 [Super 35]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011