Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Four Brothers Movie Review

Maybe it’s my love of westerns that made me fall so hard for John Singleton’s Four Brothers, his 2005 Detroit-set revenge film and his best work since Boyz N the Hood. I didn’t realize it then, or even the second time I watched it, that it’s essentially a modern urban western. The lawlessness of the open land and small towns has been replaced by the gutted and run down Motor City. Instead of some evil landowner there’s a crime boss (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor early in his Hollywood career and long before his star turn in 12 Years a Slave). Replacing the heroic gunslinger is a criminal and his three brothers, in town for their mother Evelyn’s (Fionnula Flanagan) funeral and to exact revenge for her murder in what appears to be a convenience store robbery. Many of the western tropes are there. There are gunfights. There are shots establishing the landscape, in this cast derelict buildings and snow-swept (as opposed to wind) open spaces of frozen lakes.


Mark Wahlberg is Bobby, the eldest of the Mercer brothers and the one most set on carrying out the revenge plot. The other three are Angel (Tyrese Gibson), an ex-marine shacking up with his old high school flame (Sofía Vergara) while he’s in town; Jack (Garrett Hedlund), the youngest and a wannabe rock star who’s treated as the vulnerable effeminate brother, a point that is left under-explored; and Jeremiah (André Benjamin), the one who has stayed in town to look after their mother and has turned into a family man with a wife (Taraji P. Henson) and two daughters. All are regarded by detective Green (Terrence Howard) as some of the most dangerous criminals Detroit has produced, but who would have been far worse had Evelyn Mercer not taken them in as boys. The extent of Jack’s criminal history is one of the biggest mysteries, considering his older brothers tend to shield him from the most extreme violence they carry out. Jeremiah is the one who tries to hold Bobby back and some evidence may point to him as being involved in the death, which is revealed through one of several elaborate plot developments to be a professional hit.

Truthfully, this is not a great movie. It’s definitely a guilty pleasure, but I think the action is staged superbly and there’s enough emotion in the characters and story (the film was written by David Elliot and Paul Lovett) to make it more than a forgettable thruway. Singleton showed that he could stage some phenomenal action set pieces. There’s a car chase at night on the snowy streets with both cars sliding all over the road. And the big centerpiece is an assault of automatic weapons and a small army of attackers on the Mercer family home. I remember the feeling I had the first time I saw it. It felt like it was never-ending and overwhelming in its trauma. Jack is gunned down outside, left bleeding in pain, screaming for help while his brothers are pinned down inside, unable to come to his aid. Meanwhile the house is torn to shreds and you wonder just how bad it’s going to bet. I could hardly catch my breath. It continues to pack similar power years after I last saw it.

Because the movie makes me feel so completely that the brothers love each other and are a family, I’m willing to overlook what now seems like an obvious logical hole. If they were already such horrible young offenders that no one wanted to adopt them, they must have been teenagers when they lived together with Evelyn as their mother. I’m not sure they really could have developed such a strong brotherly bond under those circumstances, but I’ll suspend that disbelief. It’s Singleton’s direction of the actors and the obvious bond they have with each other that makes it work in spite of itself.

It’s also worth mentioning the killer soundtrack loaded with songs by The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and other hits from Motown Records. This is the soundtrack of Detroit just as scores by Elmer Bernstein, Max Steiner, and Ennio Morricone painted the aural landscape of the western.

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