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  Directed by
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  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Behind the scenes footage

The Yards

Miramax/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 110 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

James Gray's followup to his critically acclaimed Little Odessa is a dark and simmering crime drama set in the heart of working class New York.

Young convict Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg) returns home to his blue-collar family in Queens (New York) having taken the fall for his buddies and serving a stint in jail for auto-theft. Welcoming him home are his doting mother Val (Ellen Burstyn), cousin Erica (Charlize Theron) and his best friend (and now Erica’s boyfriend) Willie (Joaquin Phoenix). Genuinely wanting to go straight, Leo must find a job quickly to sustain both himself and his weak mother who has suffered heart problems ever since her son’s incarceration.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. During his time inside, Leo’s aunty Kitty (Faye Dunaway) has married a local businessman Frank (James Caan) who operates a train servicing company for the New York subway. As a favour to his mother, Frank has promised a job for Leo, offering him a lowly (but honest) position as an apprentice. But Willie, who works for Frank as a part-time collection agent and saboteur, lures Leo with the promise of quick money, and convinces Frank (against his better judgement) to let him work in his team.

However, when a pay-off goes awry in the Queens rail yards, a yardmaster is killed and a policeman seriously injured. Involved in a far-reaching web of corruption, Frank starts to feel the squeeze from above. Though innocent of the murder, Leo is quickly made the sacrificial lamb, as complex and far reaching political gears begin to turn. As pressure is brought to bear, loyalties within Leo’s new extended family are tested and his own friends are set on his tail.

Written and directed by James Gray (Little Odessa), The Yards' sombre and dark plot takes many of the elements of classic Shakespearian tragedy - politics, corruption and betrayal (with a hint of forbidden love) - and presents them within the well-mapped confines of an American crime family. The world of The Yards is one in which the line between respectability and corruption is completely obfuscated; a world where its inhabitants are trapped by fate and their own character flaws. This is a world where an ex-con cannot help but be drawn back into a life he desires to leave behind.

The result is an engaging crime drama that, whilst a slow-burn for much of its duration, contains a richness of texture and depth that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.

One of the main contributors is the fantastically subdued performances that Gray illicits from his ensemble cast, with Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, and most surprisingly Charlize Theron, putting in richly shaded performances. Universally, the characters display an emotional intensity that remains tightly restrained yet just below the surface; conveyed by what they don’t say rather than what they do – in expressions, glances and gestures. This restraint adds beautifully to the simmering tension that builds and builds throughout the film.

  Video
Contract

The quality of Roadshow’s anamorphic presentation of The Yards at the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 underlines their commitment to spend time on all their releases, not just those that smashed the box office. And it is as well, with Harris Savides' shadowy cinematography beautifully underlining the cast’s emotional performances. The image he provides is warm in hue yet stark and threatening.

The transfer is clean and sharp, with no film artefacts to be seen, and only the very rare bit of aliasing creeping in. Throughout, the film features a rich palette of monotonic colour schemes, predominantly sepias, oranges and yellows. In general, the monotonic palette increases the level of contrast in the image, and the transfer provides a fantastic level of detail. When a broader palette does appear, for example in the few exterior or daytime scenes, the colours are vivid and well balanced.

Dramatic lighting is employed in nearly every scene (often overhead lighting reminiscent of The Godfather) to create dark backgrounds, and striking dark and light contrasts. Thankfully the black level is deep and solid, and shadow detail is also good.

There is a little grain evident in the image from time to time, but this appears to be inherent in the source material, and a product of intentionally underlit locations. There is one point early on in the film, during Leo’s welcome home party, that a blackout occurs. For the five minutes that the actors are bathed in darkness and simulated candlelight, the grain increases to a distracting level. Again this seems to be a limitation in the source material.

In terms of MPEG artefacts, the odd bit of posterization does creep into backgrounds on the rare occasion, but no other compression-related problems affect the image for the film's duration. All in all this is a good effort from Roadshow.

  Audio
Contract

In terms of audio, The Yards features a very minimalist soundtrack that compliments the minimalist performances of its cast. The score, when it can be heard, demonstrates that soft and quiet can accomplish and enhance suspense and tension as well as, or better than, the crashingly dramatic scores so common in recent films. In the most suspenseful point in the film, the soundtrack is completely silent. The effect is chilling.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is therefore quite subdued, being predominantly dialogue based. Emanating clearly from the centre speaker, the dialogue is always clear and distinct and lip sync is never an issue.

When the soundtrack does spring to life, it is well constructed with good channel separation and surround activity. During noisier scenes, such as in train carriages, Frank's factory and so on, the sound stage is filled with an abundance of ambient effects. In particular the night-club scene, easily the loudest and most vibrant of the film, features a sound stage that is filled with laughing crowds and doofing music. The normally silent subwoofer even gets to wake up for a little while.

All in all, it can be said that the audio for The Yards is not the reason you bought that kick-arse sound system. But don't be deceived, this is a very cleverly constructed soundtrack that really does say so much more with less.

  Extras
Contract

From the moment you slip the disc in your player, a promo for Roadshow DVD begins to play. Although it is skippable, this sort of thing really annoys me. I have no problem with including promos on rental-only releases, or even as a selectable menu item, but as a disc intro on sell-through discs this is really annoying. You don’t see this kind of thing on CDs do you?? This quibble aside, the production values on the disc are up to Roadshow’s normally high standard.

The menus are anamorphic and have a nicely animated introduction. After the introduction they remain static with snippets from The Yards’ haunting score playing over them. A number of extras are included, with most (but not all) having only limited re-watch potential.

Director’s Commentary: Commentaries from writer/directors are often the most informative and entertaining, and this one from James Gray does not disappoint. Having already enjoyed the film as and of itself, Gray's commentary provided an even deeper appreciation of the film, and I enjoyed subsequent viewings even more. Well spoken and with a vast knowledge of film history, Gray is intelligent and energetic. Although he is pleased with the final product, he displays no ego, discussing what he attempted with each scene and leaving whether or not he succeeded up to the viewer. Although there are some slight pauses in the track, he talks almost continually and engagingly throughout. This is definately a commentary well worth listening to.

Behind the Scenes: Presented at an aspect ratio of 4:3 and sporting a clean and sharp, non-anamorphic transfer, this contains on-set interviews with the cast and James Gray. The comments from the actors are basically of the “I’m so lucky to be working on this project and with this director” kind and, although interesting, provided little insight into the production.

Trailer: The theatrical trailer, sporting an anamorphic transfer at a ratio of 1.85:1. The quality is comparable to that of the feature itself.

Biographies: Detailed career biographies for the film’s big names, including Wahlberg, Phoenix, Theron, Dunaway, Burstyn, Caan and director James Gray.

Previews: Theatrical trailers for The Boiler Room and The Hurricane. Both are anamorphic transfers at a ratio of 1.85:1, and they are both clean and sharp.

  Overall  
Contract

The Yards, with its solid cast, great performances and nice visuals is a welcome addition to a genre that doesn't see many additions these days. James Gray's beautifully constructed tragedy will undoubtedly appeal to fans of crime drama, but even if you're not a fan of the genre, then I still recommend The Yards as a good night's viewing - well worth the rental price. Check it out!


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      And I quote...
    "Wonderfully restrained and emotionally powerful performances from Wahlberg and co. elevate The Yards above your typical American crime drama."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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