Four Brothers (2005) / Action-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, pervasive language, brief nudity, and some sexual content
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000), Garrett Hedlund, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Terrence Dashon Howard, Josh Charles, Sofia Vergara, Fionnula Flanagan
Director: John Singleton
Screenplay: David Elliott, Paul Lovett
A return to form of sorts for director John Singleton, returning to the subject matter that made him a name to watch -- tough neighborhoods and the struggle for family unity. Although he started his career making movies with issues like Boyz n the Hood and Higher Learning, he has been drifting into more commercial, less socially significant vehicles, most exemplified by the hip remake of Shaft and the sequel to The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious. Singleton's now back where he belongs, making gritty crime dramas, and while Four Brothers plays out more like an action movie than a family drama, the credibility of the dialogue and the solid performances in key roles keeps it all together to form a satisfying whole.
The plot centers around a killing in a Detroit store by a gang of masked hoodlums. One of the victims is Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan, The Others), an elderly woman that adopted four young wayward boys and brought them all up to be men. Now these four "brothers" of different mothers have come back to attend their adoptive mother's funeral, and also get to the bottom of just who killed her and why. The Detroit cops prove nearly useless, so the men decide to take it upon themselves to dig up what they can find and exert some payback. The roads lead them to some interesting places, but one name keeps arising -- Victor Sweet (Ejiofor, Melinda and Melinda) -- the most notorious and ruthless gangster in town.
With its classic Motown soundtrack, its gritty ghetto action, and lots and lots of violent confrontation, Four Brothers owes every bit as much to the blaxploitation films of the 1970s as it does to the revenge tales of the old West (some claim The Sons of Katie Elder provides the plotline, although this may be incidental) from which it drew original inspiration. Also like those films, the characters are often larger than life, especially a superb Ejiofor as Vic Sweet, a truly menacing yet charismatic bad-ass that no one dares tussle with.
Although the chemistry between the four brothers doesn't quite smack of men that have known each other a lifetime, the casting is still quite good, with Wahlberg (I Heart Huckabees, The Italian Job) still capable of the much needed street credibility to pull off a nuanced role. Perhaps the biggest surprise comes from Outkast's Andre 3000 (Be Cool, Hollywood Homicide), here in his first sizable role, showing acting chops only hinted at in previous comedic supporting efforts.
The script is pure fantasy, and the BS factor occasionally rises quite high, so suspension of disbelief is crucial for a film that is as raucous and violent as Four Brothers can sometimes be. (My favorite: after the brothers have a shootout that lasts several minutes, they have to implore people in the neighborhood to dial 911 to help a fallen victim). Some of the twists in the film require complete idiots to fall for, while others are so obvious that you may be pulling out your hair in frustration at certain times due to the illogical motivations of the main characters. Singleton falls into some serious traps of clichés, so the film does have some flaws that can't be ignored altogether. However, taken as a pure piece of entertainment, it is quite engaging, in-your-face stuff that should prove worthwhile for hard-boiled action junkies. A total crock, but somehow still riveting all the same.
© 2005 Vince Leo