Having done time for grand theft auto Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg) is out of prison and returning home to his mum and his aunt who is now married to Frank (James Caan) the owner of one of the cities biggest subway contractors. Leo's best friend Willie (Joaquin Phoenix), who Leo didn't rat out, now works for Frank doing the lucrative dirty work of sabotaging competitors and it is Willie who convinces Frank that Leo should work with him. But on the first night on the job things go bad when a cop spots Leo and he is forced to beat him senseless, leaving the cop comatose whilst Willie kills another man. But it leads to Leo being made a scapegoat and other than his mum and his cousin Erica (Charlize Theron) he can't trust anyone, not Willie or Frank as they want to silence him whilst the cops want to arrest him.
When "The Yards" opens and we watch Leo return to Queens it feels like it is aiming to be a bit like "Goodfellas" with the entire family throwing a party for Leo's return and Willie lounging around on the sofa in his flashy suit coming across a bit like Ray Liotta's Henry Hill. And it continues on that sort of mob theme with James Caan cast as Frank and delivering that mafia boss like performance of someone who orders people around to do shady jobs. And to be honest whilst it all feels a little too cliche it is still entertaining in a general mob movie sort of way.
But then we have the incident and a series of events which lead to Leo on the run not only from cops but also those he thought he could trust because they want to silence him. Unfortunately these events become too convoluted and so whilst still entertaining it borders on the nonsense especially for a movie which whilst trying to entertain also seems like it is aiming for some sort of realism.
The thing which "The Yards" has going for it is an impressive cast and many of them give an impressive performance especially Joaquin Phoenix who looks like he was born to star in a mob movie with the combination of looks and charisma. But whilst the likes of Caan, Burstyn, Dunaway and Theron all give good performances there is Mark Wahlberg, an actor who in the right role excels but here initially struggles. During the first half every scene which features Wahlberg comes across like he is over thinking it and it makes it feel forced. Fortunately by the second half of the movie he stops over thinking it and relaxes.
What this all boils down to is that "The Yards" ends up a middle of the road movie, entertaining but not in the slightest bit memorable with its mix of good and bad points.