I have to admit, my expectations for Four Brothers was very low. I wasn’t particularly excited about seeing it since John Singleton’s films have been getting progressively worse (2 Fast 2 Furious, anyone?) since his debut Boyz n the Hood (when he was a pup of 23 years old). And Mark Wahlberg? Not exactly the master thesp. I figured it would just be a bunch of scowling manly guys blowing shit up in a vengeance flick.
But you know what? Four Brothers surprised me by actually being a lot of fun. Did I just say that? It has been lambasted as super-violent, with the sort of gang-style, take the law into your own hands that is the theme of so many video games these days. Characters walk into cafes, bedrooms, and onto community basketball courts, and it seems that at any given moment, every bystander has a gun. Geez, I hope this isn’t really how Detroit is these days!
The four brothers—two white, two black—are four ruffians that a saintly foster mother (Fionnula Flanagan) took in when no one else would adopt them. Now adults, who have had varying success staying out of trouble with the law, the four men are brought together when mom is mowed down in a gang-style convenience store holdup. Dissatisfied with the cops’ attempts at solving the murder, they, of course, decide to take matters in their own hands. Many gunfights ensue.
Mark Wahlberg, burly and greasy and scowly, plays the oldest brother Bobby. He’s a bad seed, but Wahlberg also instills him with a lot of charm. You can’t hate any of these guys, and they are all unique enough to stand out as solid characters. Tyrese Gibson is a military man with a weak spot for the neighbor’s woman, and a tendency to slip back into his thugginess quite easily. Andre Benjamin is the brother who has straightened out the most, but still has an unexplainable aura of shiftiness around him. And the youngest, Garrett Hedlund, plays Jack, the punky kid who is the whipping boy for his brothers’ merciless, but good natured teasing. The four actors have surprisingly good rapport and chemistry, which is what makes going along for the ride so much fun.
I was a little disappointed to see the fine British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) make his U.S. debut as, of course, a gangster (are there really that few roles for black actors these days? probably). But he chews the scenery, and has hilarious moments of power as he deftly humiliates his naysayers.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is violence aplenty in Four Brothers… some of it is even kind of shocking (gang-style executions, et al). The bad guys fall left and right, and are never humanized. Except for the opening scene that shows the mother’s fate, there is only one or two other moments that shows a death having any emotional resonance (I won’t spoil it). This is violence at its most cartoony. But there’s the catch. If you can handle the wild abandon of the violence, you can sit back and enjoy the humor. Four Brothers is an enjoyable buddy-movie, that just happens to have four buddies instead of two.