A well done movie with a solid amount of supplemental features.
Navigating through the supplemental features is a bit arduous and redundant.
The Yards is one of those movies that may take some people by surprise, simply because movies of this kind really are not made anymore. We hear that all the time but in the case of this movie that truly applies. First of all, we have story in which there is no beacon. There is no good guy or bad guy. There are just people, their actions and the results of those actions. Secondly, this film isn’t moving at a pace that is maximizing all of the allotted time. It is a slow film but not slow in a boring or meandering way. It just takes it’s time letting us figure things out for ourselves. It is very much the work of someone who has a true grasp of the kind of filmmaker he is, and most importantly of the kind of films he wants us to see.
Upon looking at his resume on IMDB, The Yards Director James Gray has not made another film since this one. I know that there was a lot of “behind the scenes” drama that happened with this film in post production, but I am thankful that the world at large will now finally get to view this movie as Gray intended us to. This Coppolaesque take on the New York City train yards, is the tragic tale of a man (Mark Wahlberg) coming home from jail to find that no matter what he goes through, he will never be 100% clean, nor will he ever be free of all the temptations that could send him back to where he came from. It speaks volumes about the way that Gray tells this familiar tale, because nothing about it is like anything I could remember seeing when I watched it.
Roundtable Discussion; Deleted Scenes and Visualizing The Yards
The Roundtable Discussion features Charlize Theron, Mark Wahlberg, James Caan and is moderated by James Gray. This is a very illuminating discussion because it’s not the actors talking to “press-types” who ask the usual “press” questions. I do it too so I am not pointing fingers! Rather, it is just the people who made this movie talking about it, and one gets the sense that they did this movie because they really felt they were doing something special. I also love the part where James Caan calls actors talking about acting “boring.” Amen.
There are a decent amount of Deleted Scenes with such titles as “Willie Visits Val,” “Willie Calls Bernard” and “Frank Goes to Temple.” All of these scenes seem like they were taken out of The Yards for time reasons. Their central purpose seems to have been showing a bit more of the things that we already know have happened. As a result, to keep them in the film wasn’t necessary because it’s just assumed that if it was discussed it happened. These can also be viewed with a commentary track.
The Visualizing The Yards featurette shows us James Gray with 10 watercolors he did for the film. These were made so that he could show them to the Director of Photography and the Production Designers on the film. It’s interesting because the movie does have the look of a painting, and I think it says something about how Gray was able to convey the look of this film through colors. That his crew was then able to emulate that further explains why The Yards is the film it is.
Commentary Tracks; Making of Featurette and Concept Art
One can listen to these Commentary Tracks with just James Gray or they can also be listened to with James Gray and Director/Fan Steven Soderbergh. I dabbled in and out of both commentaries and while I found them very serious, they were also interesting. For example, considering the post-production problems that Gray had to go through with the old regime at Miramax, I think it’s interesting that ultimately Gray’s director’s cut is shorter than the film that was initially released. What I like the most about both commentaries is that they are a good mix of tech and story.
The Behind the Scenes Featurette is a fairly standard, “run of the mill” piece in which we get to examine the film and it’s story. I think that it is ironic that we have James Caan doing exactly the thing that he lambasted in the Roundtable Discussion. Still, for people who want more information on this film, this bonus certainly serves it’s purpose.
Lastly, the Original Concept Art on this DVD is interesting because we get to see drawings that inspired James Gray that have nothing to do with the movie. We then are shown poster ideas that look nothing like the eventual one sheet that was utilized for this film. I think it’s sad because this movie could have really benefited from some of the more arty one sheet ideas, as opposed to looking like a Mark Wahlberg, gun film. The Yards is many things but it isn’t that.
Widescreen (2.35:1) - Enhanced for 16x9 TVs. This film is dark both in it’s look and subject matter. Yet, it is very accessible. I didn’t get the feeling that I was watching some Kubrickian tale in the stolid environments that his movies take place in. This film felt real but it also felt big. I really got a sense that I was watching the innerworkings of what happens in a city job. More to the point, this movie really reminded me of Harold Becker’s City Hall. This isn’t some grand tale where everything is going be made right in the end. Rather, it’s a simple story of what probably happens everyday in a world where ideals sometimes have to take a backseat to reality.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. This film is quiet but it’s also heavily driven by dialogue. The one sheet makes it seem like it’s an action, shoot-em-up but that is so misleading. Like Cop Land before it, this movie works for me because it allows itself to be ambiguous. It doesn’t feel the need to explain everything. The audio certainly doesn’t add to that lack of clarity, but it doesn’t go about helping it either. Rather, the sound makes you feel the city. By not using music but rather the sounds of trains and New York, we as viewers are allowed to have an experience at the same time as the characters we are following.
Wahlberg holds a gun as Charlize and Joaquin stand behind him. This cover, while I understand why it was utilized, just does this film a disservice. The back features some shots from the movie, a small description, a “Bonus Features”/technical specs listing and below that is a cast list. I honestly think this movie would have been better served if they would have referred to James Gray’s watercolors. It might have cost a bit more money, but I think it would have made people think twice when they look at this packaging. On a more positive note, there is a very well written review of this movie inside the packaging by Anthony Lane from THE NEW YORKER.
It might be because I am a big fan of Joaquin Phoenix or maybe I am just getting caught up in all the Walk the Line hype, but I am amazed at how well Joaquin was able to pull off the character of Willie in this movie. Is there anything this actor cannot do? I must admit, as young boy I didn’t really take him seriously. Especially in his early roles in such films as SpaceCamp, Russkies and Parenthood. Yet, along the way this resilient actor (both personally and professionally) really started to make me reassess him. It was roles in Inventing the Abbotts and eventually Gladiator, that made me realize what a truly talented person this actor is.
Everyone is good in The Yards. It is a rich film in talent, style and subject matter and one that I can only hope will strike up acclaim now that it is being released on DVD in it’s proper form.
The Yards was released October 20, 2000.