Paramount // 2005 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 20th, 2005
They came to bury mom...and her killer.
John Singleton follows up his popcorn sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious with this gritty, violent saga of street justice. Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights) stars.
The night starts out just like any for kindly Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan). She stops by the corner store to pick up a few things and gives a much-deserved scolding to a young kid caught shoplifting. But when two masked men run in wielding shotguns to presumably rob the place, everything changes. Shots ring out and Evelyn is dead.
Evelyn's murder reunites the four sons she had adopted and raised as her own: Bobby (Wahlberg), the eldest and rowdiest, Angel (Tyrese Gibson, Flight of the Phoenix) the brooding ex-Marine, Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin), the family man, and Jack (Garret Hedlund, Friday Night Lights) the baby of the family. It's been a long time since the four brothers had seen each other, but their mother's death has set them on a single purpose: find the killer and exact revenge.
But a simple investigation into the identities of the killers leads to bigger and more sinister things. It turns out that maybe Evelyn's death wasn't merely the result of a random act of violence, that she was, instead, targeted. This revelation blows the brothers away, and they are soon toe-to-toe with Detroit crime lord Victor Sweet (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Serenity), fighting for their life, unraveling deep-seeded Detroit corruption, and kicking the crap out of anyone who gets in their way.
Four Brothers is a really cool movie. It's hard-nosed, down and dirty, violent, yet still rotating around a surprisingly emotional core. Basically, John Singleton has crafted an "urban western," which he consistently alludes to in the bonus features. But even without Singleton's remarks, it should be obvious to anyone not living on the moon that this is a modern-day western.
All the elements are here: the dangerous drifter (Bobby), the posse (the brothers), the corrupt town (Detroit), the morally bankrupt villain (Victor Sweet), the shootout at the OK Corral (a major, bullet-ridden action scene at the Mercer house), even the iconic saunter into a saloon (the brothers show up at a bar to pursue the killers). These aren't veiled references; Four Brothers is essentially a western set in the Motor City.
As such, there's lots of action and gunfire and a conspiracy populated by big-time hoodlums. As a revenge flick, Four Brothers thrills. And the added themes of brotherhood elevate the material. Don't get me wrong -- you're not going to come away from this film with a profound epiphany or anything, but for an action film with a solid layer of character resonance, Four Brothers is a success.
Much of the credit lies with the actors. Each brother is strongly performed, with Wahlberg the stand-out. This is one his best acting gigs, and he is able to turn what is essentially a one-dimensional character into an electric powerhouse. Case in point: there is a scene at the end with Bobby walking through the snow for a climactic showdown that really could have been hugely cheesy, but it becomes instead a great moment because of Wahlberg's efforts in selling this character. Wahlberg infuses Bobby Mercer with a thread of vulnerability and weakness (he's not the sharpest tool in the shed and he is relentlessly protective of his little brothers), striking the balance between tough guy and namby-pamby.
The rest of the cast is more than capable. Tyrese Gibson is a great physical presence, Garret Hedlund, who was very good in Friday Night Lights, shoulders the emotional distress of losing his adopted mother better than the others, and Andre Benjamin, of Outkast fame, proves he is a welcome addition to the big screen. All four brothers are interesting, unique characters, and the performances made me feel that these guys were actually brothers, despite their different ethnicities.
Man, that was a really cool aspect of Four Brothers: it was race-neutral. These dudes loved each other, firing insults at one another freely (their method of affection), and their race was a non-factor.
Then there's Chiwetel Ejiofor, playing his second memorable villain if 2005. This guy is just great as the sadistic Victor Sweet, and you would never guess the dude is British. His scumbag Detroit ganglord shtick is pitch-perfect.
Last thing I want to note is the violence, and the decisions Singleton made for his character's actions. I was actually taken aback by the overt brutality our protagonists exercised. Whereas most action heroes use deadly force in reactive situations, here, the brothers do it proactively. This was a conscious decision Singleton made, going against the typical genre playbook. The good guys in this film will flat-out execute incapacitated bad guys, and while it's cathartic in some respects, it's also jarring. There are still some exciting, conventional action scenes -- a car chase in the snow and the shootout at the Mercer house -- but they both culminate in these shocking acts. I like what Singleton has done here, though. It's an unorthodox approach to Hollywood violence, and while semi-disturbing, this stuff bolsters the western feel of the film.
Sporting a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Four Brothers looks fine, though be prepared for a gritty, flat-colored presentation. We're talking wintertime in Detroit -- everything's dirty and grimy and everyone's wearing earthy-colored clothing. Only Victor Sweet's righteous fur stands out with respect to color. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is very active and hits all the right notes for the action scenes. The score by David Arnold is pushed well, and represents a nice alternative to generic hip hop.
A nice set of extras include an insightful commentary by Singleton, four making-of featurettes -- "The Look of Four Brothers," "Crafting Four Brothers," "Behind the Brotherhood," "Mercer House Shootout" -- and nine deleted scenes. The making-of stuff is interesting and Singleton, the writers, and the cast are specific about what drew them to the project.
Thrilling, unnerving, well-executed, and it's got heart -- Four Brothers is an entertaining action flick that defied the typical conventions and came out better for it. Definitely recommended.
Marky Mark's new Funky Bunch is found not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* "The Look of Four Brothers"
* "Crafting Four Brothers"
* "Behind the Brotherhood"
* "Mercer House Shootout"
* Nine Deleted Scenes
* Official Site