1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2015 - 11:17 AM

Leo (Mark Wahlberg) is returning from 16 months in gaol where he's taken the rap for some buddies. Among them is Willie (Joaquin Phoenix), who's about to become engaged to Leo's first love, his cousin Erica (Charlize Theron). Erica's mother Kitty has remarried, her husband Frank (James Caan) is a prosperous businessman making and fixing things for the New York subway. It's the loyalty to Leo's ailing mother (Ellen Burstyn) that makes Frank offer Leo an apprenticeship, but Leo, although self effacing in a lot of ways, thinks he can do better with an offer from Willie. Willie is Frank's Mr. Fixit, through bribes, kickbacks and other unsavoury methods, and he's doing pretty well, thank you very much. But the first time he and Leo go on a job together a railwayman is killed and a policeman is battered senseless. Leo finds all fingers pointing at him.

James Gray is a very fine filmmaker, and while The Yards seems to be about corruptions and crime, it's actually about family and guilt. Simply outstanding yet again is Joaquin Phoenix as Willie, he makes him venal and yet accessible and even vaguely sympathetic. Mark Wahlberg's character of Leo is pretty passive and yet he imbues him with a sense of dogged decency. Charlize Theron is once again beautiful and effective as Erica. But the star of the film is James Gray, his framing is masterful, his insight compassionate - his own father was apparently a worker on the subway who was sent to gaol for corruption. The Yards is not a crowd pleaser necessarily but for anyone who wants to see someone aiming high in cinema, The Yards should be your destination.

Comments from David Stratton: Like Little Odessa, this brooding movie combines thriller elements with family drama and boasts a distinguished cast. The mixture is reminiscent of On The Waterfront, with the new film powerfully conveying the dilemma of its young hero who wants to succeed but is too impatient to wait for his chances. James Caan brings with him echoes of The Godfather in his role as the helpful yet untrustworthy uncle.