Artist: Movie ReviewTitle: Four Brothers (Film)Rating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Edwardo Jackson
BIASES: late 20s black male; frustrated screenwriter who favors
action, comedy, and glossy, big budget movies over indie flicks,
kiddie flicks, and weepy Merchant Ivory fare
On the heels of the convenience store slaying of neighborhood den mother Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan), her adopted sons "four delinquents so far gone that no one else would take them in" come home for the funeral. You've got tatted up, gay wannabe rock star Jack ( Garrett Hedlund), former union worker /hellraiser-turned-straight arrow
family man Jeremiah (Andre 3000 Benjamin), and pretty boy Marine Angel ( Tyrese Gibson), who comes part and parcel with his aggressively dysfunctional relationship with stereotypically hot-blooded Latina girlfriend Sofi (Sofia Vergara). And then there's Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), the oldest, most volatile, charismatically violent leader of the interracial Mercer brethren. Spurred on by the memory of "the best mother four degenerate bastards could ever have," Bobby leads the clan through a messy, hackles-raising, vengeance spree through inner city Detroit, miles ahead of an ineffectual police in trying to solve who murdered their mother.
From its snowy, Motown-fueled opening to its frozen lake climax with a nice, unexpectedly pro-union twist, "Four Brothers" is a bare-knuckled, take-no-prisoners action romp rooted in gravitas. "Brothers" is such a punch-first-ask-questions-almost-never type vehicle, you can credit Singleton for single-handedly resurrecting the urban Western with admirable verve and tenacity. Grounded by a capable script from David Elliot and newcomer Paul Lovett, Singleton's "Brothers" is as much about brotherhood (the boys bond through hockey, fighting, Motown music, and general horseplay all very
believable) as it is about bashing some heads in. The hard-edged, potty-mouthed, rough hewn script, matched with Singleton's great visual energy and flair, features surprisingly unexpected violence that keeps the suspense up and lives off balance.
Having quite a summer (exec producer and financier of breakout indie hit "Hustle & Flow"), John Singleton demonstrates just how much he's grown commercially, if not artistically (yes, you CAN do both) in "Brothers." Employing the car trick photography acquired through his admittedly sellout vehicle-sequel "2 Fast 2 Furious," Singleton spotlights one harrowing, wintry car chase shootout with particularly frenetic magnetism. In a shootout that would make Charlton Heston proud, Singleton stops the film completely by jumpstarting it into the aforementioned urban (Mid-)Western genre, with probably the most exciting and tragic action sequence of the summer. Wracked with high stakes and true emotion yet still viciously edited with hacking, meat cleaver-like intensity, more than bullets and bricks fly in this showdown.
Infusing the pic with said intensity is a fine stable of competent and on-the-come-up actors. While singer-cum-actor Tyrese didn't exactly move me in "2 Fast" or "Brothers," his Angel at least keeps up with the crew, brooding appropriately for most of the movie yet totally whipped by his bra-popping, hell-on-heels girlfriend. The least developed of the brothers, Hedlund's Jack hints at the corners of an abusive foster home past and an easy acceptance of his role as lowest on the brotherly totem pole, gamely taking ribbing about his dubious sexuality and being stuck with the worst weapons (he gets a crowbar
while everyone else gets guns). Despite his native, out-of-place Georgia twang, Andre "3000" Benjamin, one-half of worldwide Hip-hop superstar group OutKast, exudes a quiet complexity within his attractive, genial smile as family-and-honor-bound Jeremiah, a smile that hides pain, responsibility, and principle to spare.
Mark Wahlberg dives oily-head first into his personally delinquent Beantown past to emerge as Bobby "the Michigan Mauler" Mercer, a former high school hockey goon with an appealing, casually violent nature and an affinity for gasoline and firearms. Not just enough to be the leader of this ragamuffin crew of not quite reformed malcontents, Wahlberg's Bobby leads by beautifully misguided, hotheaded example, more than happy to create a scene with mack truck finesse where surgeon scalpel precision would do. In other words, he's so unpredictable, you can't take your eyes off him, for fear you miss
his next ferocious, out-of-his-hindquarters move.
Whereas the chemistry among all four brothers is believably tight, the support suffers in comparison, despite amiable casting. As an ear-to-the-streets detective, Terrence Howard does Terrence Howard, emitting his trademark, green-eyed laser beam concentration in his handful of scenes. Also from "Hustle & Flow" as well as Singleton's confused, patchwork quilt of black male psychology "Baby Boy," Taraji P. Henson is criminally underused as Jeremiah's worrisome wife Camille (but I'm sure the seldom-working Henson appreciated the check). Having heralded him the British heir apparent to Denzel upon introduction to his work in "Dirty Pretty Things," Chiwetel Ejiofor shocked the hell
out of me by washing up with a sturdy, American hood accent as gang lord Victor Sweet. A sort of Nino Brown-lite, Ejiofor's Sweet is cartoonishly malevolent, who prefers as much to punish with brute force as with unforgettable humiliation. The only one out of place at this party is Josh Charles (S.W.A.T.), a bland and curious choice for
a Detroit detective, standing out like Tom Cruise at a Nation of Islam
meeting (or the BET Awards same difference).
Hampered but never slowed by moments of unintentional comedy that usually sprout from random violence and insults, this movie may get a little silly with all the action but at least it's never boring. Deploying an intriguing second act complication that blurs the lines between good guys and bad, "Four Brothers" is a multi-culti cowboy flick for the 21st century. Somewhere in his grave, Charles Bronson is giving Singleton a pistol-packing salute.
Edwardo Jackson (ReelReviewz@aol.com) is an author and LA-based screenwriter, visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com