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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Yards

by on December 11, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Yards”
Rated R
2000

Director James Gray is enamored with nocturnal mysteries playing out beneath urban-streetlight shadows. Oh, how those fixtures seem to swallow more light — and, with it, dreams — than they emit.

Pitch-black night felt like a character unto itself in 2000’s “The Yards,” a crime drama in description only.

How “The Yards” makes that shift through character rather than pure plot is hard to disclose without divesting twists. Inspired by a scandal involving his father, Gray lets personal insight color these Shakespearean shenanigans of privilege, panic and power.

Paroled for a theft he didn’t commit, Leo (Mark Wahlberg) returns to Queens seeking work from his uncle Frank (James Caan) — whose contracts to repair New York’s subway trains have taken a hit from city-mandated diversity initiatives.

Frank has nothing for Leo, but Leo’s Puerto Rican pal Willie (Joaquin Phoenix) takes him on for freelance felonies. Willie sabotages Frank’s competitors’ work to win back bids and, hopefully, Frank’s approval to marry his daughter, Erica (Charlize Theron), on whom cousin Leo retains an icky crush.

When a raid ends in murder, Leo takes the fall, goes on the run and must again choose to squeal or stay mum.

If Leo’s silence is his downfall, Willie’s upward-mobility ambition becomes a tragedy all its own. How can either man expect to move into management positions in oak offices?

By the time “The Yards” barrels toward its conclusion, Grey has exposed everyone’s flaws — no true hero or nefarious villain, only shards of ambiguity falling where they may.

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