The unwritten rule wants that any interesting movie on television airs on a specialized channel and/or after 11 PM. Try to catch Blue Velvet or Dead Ringers on cable television on a decent hour. Good luck. All you get beforehand are blockbusters and really, really obscure movies. Sometimes some straight-to-DVD goodness like the glorious Death Sentence, with Kevin Bacon, for example (sic). Some night, you can get lucky, though and stumble upon a movie worth more than a few laughs. John Singleton’s Four Brothers is flawed, no doubt. It’s not exactly an award winner. But it’s not average either. If it flew under your radar so far, make sure to rectify the situation.
The main thing that sets Four Brothers ahead of your average crime film, is a very strong plot. The four brothers in question are Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), Angel (Tyrese Gibson), Jeremiah (Andre 3000) and Jack (Garret Hedlund), who were once four troublesome Detroit youth picked up from the gutter and adopted by urban angel Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan). Two of them are black, two are white, but it doesn’t matter because they are now family and there are tighter knit than most siblings you’ll know. Evelyn is gunned down in what seems to be a banal convenience store robbery. The brothers, lead by Bobby, are looking to solve the crime, since the police put it on the pile. Looked like a robbery, there are even witnesses. But as they scratch a little, the reality is a lot more disturbing. Someone gunned down the nicest woman in the world on purpose.
The performance of a pre-The Departed Mark Wahlberg is spearheading this movie. He was a capable actor before playing in M. Night Shyamalan’s laughably bad The Happening in 2008. It’s as if this movie sucked every drop of talent away from him. In Four Brothers, he’s at home playing a rugged, petty criminal with a heart of gold. Director John Singleton keeps him running at people, making aggressive faces and shooting in every direction, which seems to make him even more efficient. He’s definitively well-handled here. Same thing for Andre 3000 from Outkast and Garrett Hedlund, who both carry their part very well. The musician in particular, I could see having a cinema career. The best performance though (and who is arguably for the best written part) comes from Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays local mobster Victor Sweet. Ejiofor is “one of those guys” who you seen in many movies, but never learned their name. He transmits the brutality of Victory Sweet very well. I won’t spend much time talking about Tyrese Gibson, but he’s just not a very gifted actor.
The weaker part of FOUR BROTHERS is behind the camera. The editing of the movie shows very little thought process. It’s very well paced (the story as two arcs, so to speak), which is really cool but it’s a screenwriting feat more than directing. The art direction also, is a little shoddy. It’s depicting Detroit in a very weird way. Half-way between the most violent city in the U.S, where no one dares to walk the street at night (which would explain the empty streets in a car pursuit) and a city where kids play hockey in the street. Also, the aesthetic is rather bland. There is no real effort made, but to tell the tale in a chronological order, as clearly as possible, so it puts unnecessary pressure on the script and on the actors game. They are good, but they could’ve benefited from more involvement by the director.
Four Brothers is a very visceral, involving movie. But it would’ve been visceral and involving on paper as well. If it made such little noise, it’s because the movie adaptation is a little lazy. It’s still much better than average, but relying on a strong script in cinema is playing a dangerous game. It’s worth your time and involvement, though. Just remember that the true starts are writers David Elliot and Paul Lovett, as well as members of the support cast Andre 3000 and Chiwetel Ejiofor.