“This is America, homeboy. Black people don’t get what they want in this country. Why should you?”
And with that, a masked shooter targets an immigrant cashier in Detroit and blows him away at point-blank range. Thus begins “Four Brothers,” the new John Singleton movie that opens nationwide today.
“Four Brothers,” starring Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin and Garrett Hedlund as the title characters, is loosely based on the 1965 western “The Sons of Katie Elder” that starred John Wayne and Dean Martin.
The current version finds the four adopted Mercer brothers—two black, two white—reuniting in Detroit after their beloved mother is gunned down. They arrive to bury not just their mother, as the movie’s tagline says, but also her killer.
The foursome wants to exact revenge, while two cops (Terrence Howard and Josh Charles) try to persuade them to let the authorities handle the matter.
As Wahlberg and company shuffle through Detroit’s snow-swept streets, brandishing handguns like cell phones, they eventually encounter a local crime boss named Victor Sweet—played in a brutally understated manner by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Sweet makes grown men eat food off the floor and—when they really disappoint him—sit at the kiddie table. Seriously. The fact that these character flourishes work so well is a testament both to Ejiofor and director Singleton, whose last helming effort was 2003’s “2 Fast 2 Furious.”
“Brothers” follows in the footsteps of its western progenitor by delivering a showdown at movie’s end—one that gives Wahlberg a terrific cinematic moment that is deserved, for his performance here is spot-on (except for his crying scenes, which he can never pull off).
The strength of “Brothers” lies not in its story progression (though that’s not bad), but in the chemistry of its stars. Wahlberg, Gibson, Benjamin and Hedlund really do harmonize onscreen. Their jokes land, their body language works. The way they gang up on Hedlund’s Jack—the youngest—is hilarious. He constantly gets to hold things, run errands, be told to “wait here.”
“Brothers” is problematic, however, for the way in which it celebrates its vengeful characters.
Wahlberg’s Bobby, for example, waltzes into a basketball game at center court, steals the ball, yells with impunity at players and fans and then—if that’s not enough—pulls a gun and demands information relating to his mother’s murder. He cracks a few jokes and leaves.
Bobby and his brothers will joke throughout the movie, even as characters topple down buildings to serious injury. And just because they hold hands and pray at mealtime doesn’t make them multi-faceted when they then go out and shoot up all of Detroit; it just makes them more misguided.
Bobby does have a moral compass, and it’s tattooed across his back: “No Mercy.” That seems to be his ethos, as demonstrated through his execution-style murders of men he thinks were involved in his mother’s death.
The movie initiates all sorts of questions, including the nature of justice and revenge, and what happens if proper authorities can’t/don’t/won’t catch perpetrators. You might even watch a western differently after seeing this.
“Four Brothers” is cinematically and narratively well done, and the car chase in the snow is particularly harrowing. But the near merriment it attaches to vengeful action is a tad—OK, a ton—too indulgent.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language and some sexual content. Reviewer’s Note: Ditto about the violence and language, both of which are prevalent throughout the movie. The context for much of the violence is also disturbing.
Director: John Singleton
Writers: David Elliot & Paul Lovett
Cast: Bobby Mercer: Mark Wahlberg; Angel Mercer: Tyrese Gibson; Jeremiah Mercer: Andre Benjamin; Jack Mercer: Garrett Hedlund; Lt. Green: Terrence Howard; Det. Fowler: Josh Charles; Victor Sweet: Chiwetel Ejiofor.
The movie’s official Web site is here.