Four Brothers is a gripping, gritty, brutal, emotionally powerful action-packed urban drama from Oscar-nominated director John Singleton (who reached success with his debut drama Boyz n the Hood). Unfortunately, upon release I judged the book by its cover and awarded this film the dismissive cold shoulder with little intention of approaching it. I didn't know much about the plot, but nonetheless the poster looked stale and didn't flare an interest in my mind at all. As it turns out, Four Brothers is an exceptional crowd-pleaser that surpassed all my expectations.
The film is a testosterone-fuelled drama with an equal mix of humour, action and drama. This is the furthest thing from your typical fluffy action film that boasts someone like Van Damme or Steven Seagal as the film's primary acting talent. There is violent action aplenty (one of the film's primary action scenes I already want to see again), but what makes this film so excellent is that it's not just a string of continuous action scenes. The filmmakers also boast an impressive amount of emotionally-driven moments that are fuelled by the powerhouse performances. From a simple plot synopsis, one would probably think that this is a straightforward, predictable clichéd-ridden story of achieving retribution. On the contrary, the results are simply stunning: director John Singleton has great skills when behind the camera, bringing this action-packed drama to life with visually remarkable consequences. The film is well-paced, taut, stylised and violent - the filmmakers never attempt to hold back on displaying heavy violence and bloodshed.
In essence, Four Brothers is a modern-day Western. But this is not your ordinary Western: this is an urban-infused, Western-style drama set in the inner city of snow-gripped Detroit. The typical spaghetti Westerns would portray a lone gunman riding into town to face the bad guys head-on. In this case, the film trades in the single gunman approach and instead places four men as an alternative. The four central protagonists are the adopted Mercer brothers: two white, two black - Bobby (Wahlberg), Angel (Gibson), Jeremiah (Benjamin) and Jack (Hedlund). After the brothers lived through their childhood, they all went their separate ways. Their mother is a much respected elderly citizen named Evelyn Mercer (Flanagan). Evelyn is a well-liked lady with a penchant for helping the lives of troublesome young kids. One night, Evelyn's tranquil life is disrupted when an apparent grocery store robbery results in her being gunned down in cold blood. Her funeral attracts the four brothers who hadn't been together since their childhood period concluded. These estranged brothers reunite and seek revenge on whoever is responsible for the murder of their mother. The police don't appear to be doing anything to solve the case, so the brothers take the law into their own hands and commence their pursuit for justice.
As the plot thickens and the investigation lengthens, it becomes apparent that the "accidental death" of their mother might not have been unintentional after all.
Four Brothers is visceral filmmaking that satisfied my every requirement for entertainment. Like I stated previously, the film has lots of action but it's not a ludicrous string of action with no heart. At the core of the film there is heart and an important sense of camaraderie. Running at approximately 100 minutes, the film successfully packs one heck of a wallop! It's tightly edited and encompasses a lot to examine underneath while not spending an overwhelming amount of time on unnecessary drama. To establish the characters there's no extensive dialogue scene; instead they are introduced when they are being reunited at the funeral and the cops discuss the history behind each individual. Without being corny or poorly written, this is an extremely creative way to feed the audience everything they need to know before proceeding into the nitty gritty.
I was especially fond of the atmosphere the film creates. The use of carefully-chosen music (mainly hip-hop) gives the unmistakable impression of an unsavoury neighbourhood. Leave it up to John Singleton: a man who completely understands the style, genre and background. You can also expect a thread of unpredictability: the audience will be lead down a continuous path of red herrings until the film's wholly satisfying conclusion. Another completely admirable element is that the filmmakers are not afraid to be relentless. One character is treated with about as much sentimentality as the next. They're never afraid of the consequences when one man is killed off.
One of the main qualities of the film is the strong sense of companionship and solidarity between the four lead characters. Mark Wahlberg is an outstanding actor who infuses a sense of brutality and conviction in his portrayal. So to speak, his role is that of the older brother who feels compelled to be an authority figure for his younger siblings. Wahlberg's character Bobby is able to endeavour an older-brother-type take-charge attitude that helps bring his three brothers together in their search for their adoptive mother's killers through the callous streets of Detroit. This is a veteran Hollywood actor amidst a fundamental cast of unknowns who mainly have a background in the music industry (a notable fact is that Wahlberg also has a past in the music business). Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin and young Garrett Hedlund are the other three brothers who appear to be equally as concentrated as Wahlberg. All four actors deliver amazing performances and fall squarely into the "anti-hero" category. The excellent chemistry between the four leads adds to the feel of the film. Altogether they are the Western-style lone gunman out to execute the guilty party. Terrence Howard and Josh Charles are both quite extraordinary as the cops who aren't willing to allow the four brothers to exercise their own form of street justice.
Overall, Four Brothers is a film one would never expect to be so excellent. At the end of the day it's only flawed faintly in the script department in the sense of over-length and a few hollow lines of dialogue. Okay, I know what you must be thinking. Rappers being actors...doesn't sound too promising does it? Before I watched the movie I must admit I was afraid of this and the thought that the film might be drowning in hip-hop music that will make you want to slice your ear-drums out! You don't need to worry at all, as Four Brothers does not submit to these anticipated flaws. The film is a compelling drama permeated with an equal dosage of humour, drama and action. To quote a reviewer, this is a "gritty urban drama". Bottom line: an excellent Friday night at the movies!
"Evelyn was in this city for a long time. She saw a lot that was terrible, but she stayed hopeful. She still believed that things were getting better, sometimes despite all evidence. And that's a hard thing to do, stay hopeful. Even when you can't find a reason."