The Yards begins with a rebirth of sorts. A subway train emerges from a tunnel into daylight. It is carrying Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg) out of the darkness and home, after his time in prison. He has taken the rap for an auto theft circle, one including close buddy Willie (Joaquin Phoenix), and is returning to a grateful homecoming. But The Yards is a dark crime drama, and Leo's future doesn't remain in the light for long in James Gray's impressive, classically styled mini-saga.

Gray, recently appearing with The Yards at the Boston Film Festival, based his tale of New York City subway vendor corruption on his own father's experiences. The filmmaker has given us a well-composed script, deftly flowing through intertwining relations of families, friends, enemies, and politicians. He sustains a hopelessly dim design throughout the film, even having the mind to steal wonderfully from a few Godfather scenes (he claims by accident), and lifting Gordon Willis' outstanding cinematography with his DP, Harris Savides (on purpose). Gray's direction gives us an overriding sense of doom that retains suspense far beyond that of a second-time filmmaker (his first being 1994's grim Little Odessa). But all that is nothing without Mark Wahlberg.

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