Screw family! I’d just stay in prison!
Leo (Mark Wahlberg), a recently released convict, finds himself on the right track as he has a job lined-up for him and everything. But that all goes South once he finds out that his boss and company are up to some shady-business. The business is owned by his uncle (James Caan) and ran mainly by his bestie (Joaquin Phoenix). So yeah, basically the guy is having a lot of problems being able to separate right from wrong and family from enemies, but to top it all off: His mother (Ellen Burstyn) is sick, and not getting any better. Isn’t coming home just grand?
This is one of those rare movies that somehow found it’s way of sinking in beneath the cracks, without anybody ever knowing about it or even mentioning it, unless they were some prestigious film critic that had the privilege to see it in theaters, or some ultra-fan of Marky Mark. It was just one of those movies that had its stars and its premise, but didn’t have the backing it would have had, had it been released in today’s world. Thankfully, that’s what On Demand is for – to remind me what an idiot I was before when I watched this movie.
In case some of you don’t know what I mean by that, I reviewed this movie a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away and thought that the movie plain and simply blew. Now, maybe those weren’t my exact words or anything, but the fact of the matter was that I was bored, annoyed and just tired from watching this movie about a bunch of a-holes, act like bigger a-holes to one another, and make it seem as if family is some sort of reason for allowing a person to almost die. I wasn’t having any of it, and gave the movie a low rating. But after these years, I think I’ve come to realize that this is just one of those movies that’s a nice watch, but you got to be in the mood for it.
Even though the movie may be advertised as a slam-bang, action-thriller with Marky Mark, guns, violence, crime and Johnny Cash acting all sly on us, it’s totally not. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of Marky Mark, guns, violence, crime, and Johnny Cash to be found here, but it’s not the way that most mainstream movies would paint it as. Writer/director James Gray is a step above that in the way that he has everything all slowed down so that not only can you get in the mood for what’s about to unfold, but also get involved with the characters as well.
If anything, that’s what the movie really blew me away with: The characters. Gray captures what it’s like to be and live in a close family that does almost everything and anything for each other, even if that means sticking their heads in a little bit and killing some people in the mean time (hey, it’s family, right?). He shows how everybody interacts with one another, who likes who, who doesn’t, what their type of relationship is, the why, the where, the who, and the be, being, been. All of that fun and nasty stuff is included here to give us a full picture of what to not only expect from these family members, but why.
That’s why once everything gets all wacky and crazy at the end, it’s still somewhat believable because we feel like we know these characters, and can come to expect them to commit dumb actions, given the circumstances. Some are conventional and obvious with their actions, but the way they are painted with morally-corrupt souls, than just normal, generic assholes, is what takes you for a left turn. Not everybody is bad, but the ones that are, stay in your mind and really mess with it, especially just as everything begins to boil down as to “who is going to betray who next?”. That aspect of the movie is fun to see, but given the character-development, it’s more than just a bit entertaining.
However, Gray’s sense of style doesn’t always work with me. For my first, initial-viewing, the slowness bothered the hell out of me to the point of where I was snoozing left and right. After these years of seeing worse movies that take it’s slo-mo pill for the sake of being slow; I thought I’d get used to it. But that’s where I was slightly wrong. See, Gray’s style is that he lets a lot of scenes just linger on and on until they really get under your skin. That works for a good couple of scenes, but after awhile, it goes on too long and seems like it’s the only trick in the book that this guy had to play. I don’t mind when my action isn’t non-stop guns and explosions, but don’t slow everything down just to have it all settle in. With time, it will. Trust me, my friend.
As slow as the movie was at times, it still didn’t take away from the final-product, nor its performances. Marky Mark was pretty solid as Leo because he isn’t called on much to do except to look concerned, and to brood the whole time with his angry face. He does it very well, even if it does feel like his character’s blandness gets lost in a sea of overly wild members of the cast like James Caan and Joaquin Phoenix. Caan is great as the slimy, untrustworthy step-uncle that seems like he means well and all, but in all honesty: Just wants money and fame. And he’ll do whatever it takes to get that dream of his. Whatta bastard. Joaquin Phoenix is fun to watch as Leo’s best buddie because he gets a chance to show that wild side we always see so much, but also show you how much a person can get so tangled in a web, without ever having a clear enough head to know when the hell to get out. Phoenix is good at showing those contrasting sides, and it’s what makes his character more than just a fuck-up. He’s a sympathetic fuck-up, at the most.
For the ladies, you still have a pretty solid troupe, but nobody really worth going crazy about. Charlize Theron is good as Erica, Leo’s cousin and Joaquin’s girl, because she’s able to get past the fact that she is a beautiful woman underneath it all, and just let her character win you over. She’s a bit grimy and dumb for staying with a d-bag like Phoenix’s character, but you see where she’s coming from and it’s not hard to feel for her once everything goes South. Theron’s always a capable actress, and doesn’t let herself get up-staged when she’s right next to vets like Faye Dunaway and Ellen Burstyn. Both are good for what it is that they are called upon to do, but that doesn’t seem as if it’s really saying much, once the ending hits you like a ton of bricks.
Consensus: James Gray may use a couple of the same tricks a little too much, but he still keeps The Yards interesting and compelling with it’s three-dimensional characters, the situations that they are put in and the decisions they are forced to make. Some of which, won’t make you too happy.
7 / 10 = Rental!!