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After hearing very little about this movie there was a lot of anticipation on my part to watch the DVD. On the night of the first viewing I gathered a bunch of friends around and basically let them rank about six DVDs in order of preference so we could decide what to watch. The Yards came in first or second in all but one individual’s preferences. Cue even more anticipation spreading around the room. The other five weren’t shockers either so I was pleased that a film I had really wanted to see came out on top, especially considering we were at my place. But did the film really deliver what I had hoped for? Did it deliver more? Or were we all left feeling just a little bit disappointed at the film and DVD? Oooh, the intrigue….

The Yards prides itself on being a pretty deep and sinister film filled with gangsters, family allegiances and underworld crime. In the vain of films like The Godfather most of the action that takes place is more deep and sinister than spectacular, so don’t expect huge explosions or ten-mile long boat chases.

The story revolves around Leo Handler who is established as a man of integrity after it is discovered he took the fall for his friends when one of them had stolen a car. Now that Leo is out he is determined to go back to a normal lifestyle and stay out of the situations that saw him get into trouble in the first place. The opportunity for work arises with his uncle Frank, who runs the New York subway system and has offered to help the poor guy out as part of a family favour. Although the job is pretty small Leo is very keen to get back on the straight and narrow, except somehow fate has placed him right in the middle of even more dodgy dealings. The main culprit seems to be Leo’s friend Willie, who appears to be quite well off after working for Frank for some time. Soon enough Willie has shown Leo the ropes, which includes a great deal of corruption and underground cash-deals. It is in one of these cash deals in which everything goes pear-shaped, leading to a murder and thorough investigation. Oh, Leo, you’ve done it again.

The monotony of public transport
There is nothing wrong with the story but for the majority of the time there is not a lot going on. The movie takes an incredible amount of time to find its rhythm and by that stage the major plot lines have been drawn, leaving the story to merely run its course. Instead of delving into the dark and sinister world of underground crime, we go even deeper into the boring, slow and meandering nature that plagues most of the film. Mark Wahlberg’s Leo can’t be faulted, further proof that he deserves some quality pictures in the future. Joaquin Phoenix has a face that’s built for this kind of movie, so he inevitably shines as Willie the pseudo-villain. These top-liners are more than ably supported by the brilliantly serious James Caan as Frank and even Charlize Theron as Leo’s cousin, although she really could do with a few more “happy” roles in the future. But the cast can’t mask the fact that this story is painfully slow and way too subtle to grab anyone’s attention. Pacing has been thrown out the window in favour of some stylised locations and deliberately muted scenery. I’m all for having to think during a movie but when the key moments are understated in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them fashion there’s bound to be trouble.

There is enough originality in the story to elevate this one into above average status. It’s just that there’s very little going on and you’ll have to be totally switched on to really appreciate some of the finer moments of the film. The cast can’t be faulted but they have to shoulder too much of the burden of pushing the narrative along. A tough film to watch.

There has obviously been a large amount of time spent on the visual aspects of the film, in terms of cinematography and lighting techniques. The underground scene is wonderfully portrayed with deep colours and dark shadows, with most of the minimal lighting contributing greatly to the sinister mood of the story. It is pleasing to note that Roadshow has spent just as much time perfecting the transfer for this DVD, allowing the viewers to get the full impact of the carefully constructed visuals.

Presented in 2.35:1 and 16:9 enhanced, the sharpness, shadow detail and richness of the colours cannot be faulted. There are some signs of edge enhancement but none of them are all that distracting on the whole. A small amount of grain appears at times which is probably due more so to the source material than any other factor. It is good to note that no matter how successful the film has been at the cinemas there will generally be a decent effort to get a better than average transfer. Hopefully other distributors will follow suit.

Another deal gets flushed
Ambience and subtlety dominate this dialogue driven soundtrack, with the surrounds called upon at various times just to provide more clarity and atmosphere. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track can’t be faulted, although in a movie with mostly talk it’s not such a remarkable achievement. The musical score does its best to enhance the story and possibly could have been pushed a little further to try and compensate for the lack of hard action in the film. Nevertheless, the tunes sound quite good in an appropriately understated fashion.

The only sticking point comes in the form of serial mumblers, Mark Wahlberg and James Caan. At various points they can become a little hard to understand, appropriate to their characters but certainly not the first time this has happened to either of them. The soundtrack does its best to make everything clear but lapses in a few moments during the film just because the pair are talking way too far under their breath. Nothing really distracting, but will be noticeable to some.

First up we have an audio commentary from Director James Gray which is quite interesting on the whole. Various technical details and movie homages are revealed and it is very easy on the ear to listen to what Gray has to say. Sometimes the commentary drags on a little, but maybe he was just trying to fit in with the style of the movie. Nothing spectacular, but certainly one which is interesting from start to finish.

Next is a featurette on the making of the film which is used basically to promote the story and the impressive ensemble cast put together by Gray and his producers. At the end of this piece you will be privileged to know that they all love each other very much and working with everyone was a pleasure. Heard it before? Yup. Probably only for true fans of the movie, or Mark Wahlberg.

We also receive the theatrical trailer (presented in high-quality 1.85:1) and cast & crew biographies. Also thrown in are the trailers for quality flicks Boiler Room and The Hurricane. Could have been worse.

Overall the only saving grace in the extras department is the quite interesting commentary from Gray. The featurette is a piece of fluff but is better on the disc than not. If you’ve got the material you might as well use it.

Rumble in the Bronx
At the end of the movie night at my place there were more than a few small frowns starting to appear. What had been hyped as a potentially interesting movie fell flat on its face mainly because of the relative slow nature of the narrative. Wahlberg, Phoenix and Theron are all great to watch but nothing can save a slow-moving, dull story. Go in with no expectations and you could be surprised, however, so don’t take this as gospel. But after so much anticipation the film was a bit of a letdown, not helped by the lack of quality extras save for a commentary track which was never going to be heard on the same night. The saving grace for the film is the transfer, which comes up trumps and does its best to accompany the thoughtful shots and scenery. The audio is equally impressive, if only for its subtle use of the score and ambient surrounds. A mixed bag for this one. Rent it and decide for yourself.