By commercial necessity, I suppose, The Yards also contains a touch of frustrated romance. Leo has a thing for Willie's sultry girlfriend, Erica (Charlize Theron), despite the fact that she's apparently his first cousin. When Leo becomes a fugitive, it's Erica who stands by him, and while that's serviceable character development, the entire triangle seems a bit artificial. Theron is fine, but the moviemakers might have been better off giving more screen time to Dunaway (Big Frank's deluded wife) and Burstyn (Leo's beleaguered mother), both of whom come across as authentic blue-collar Queens strivers.
For Caan's shtick alone, The Yards is worthwhile, but we may also be witnessing the emergence, in Gray, of a young filmmaker who's just starting to find the range. The self-consciousness of Little Odessa (all about Russian mobsters in Brighton Beach) has now given way to inspired mimicry, and we can likely expect more assurance and individuality next time around. For now, glory in a terrific cast playing a Lumet-inspired tune straight off the streets of the Big Apple.
Son of Godfather: James Caan and Joaquin Phoenix make bad company.