Two major films in less than a month shot in Detroit? It’s Kwame’s dream come true: Detroit has become an Adonis among major urban-decay filming locations (beating out Newark, Chicago’s south side and, of course, hell). The latest film shot there, “Four Brothers,” is a little different from “The Island” though. This one’s actually set in Detroit too — and proud of it. Elegant, panoramic views of Detroit landmarks such as the abandoned Amtrak station and boarded-up buildings are strategically sprinkled throughout the film. Every three to five seconds a character will remind you where you are with eloquent catchphrases such as “This is Detroit, in case ya’ll forgot,” which carries a certain irony, because not for a moment does the film let us forget it. But despite its predictability and a failed attempt at rogue coolness, John Singleton’s urban crime drama is exciting, combative and boasts a reasonably interesting storyline.
What is this storyline you ask? Take four bad-to-the-bone hoodlums from the streets and mix in one Mother Teresa of the ghetto looking to give them a second chance. Throw in a few crooked cops and a crumbling city controlled by thugs, and you get the picture. But bad guys go after the nice old lady; her “sons” get pissed and want revenge. The four sons: Bobby, Angel, Jeremiah and Jack, played by Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson (“Flight of the Phoenix”), Andre Benjamin (“Be Cool”) and Garrett Hedlund (“Friday Night Lights”), respectively.
The film’s basic premise — utter brutality in the name of avenging the saint of a community — is not only unbelievable but also a little pathetic. The film gets itself in trouble while attempting to address morals; if the old woman would have forgiven her murderers, shouldn’t her sons do the same? Apparently not, and though this is a definite blow to the film’s sense of logic, it makes up for it with a Ben Wallace slam-dunk on the action.
While attempting to hunt down their old mum’s killer, the four boys shoot up middle school gyms, throw people out windows and play wicked pick-up games of ice hockey before finally getting a plan together. Though the film is too violent at times, such scenes almost always remain centered in the story or are immediately balanced out. There are some sequences of excessive, pointless shoot-outs, but most of the action sequences are well grounded in the storyline and flow well.
In the lead role, a clean cut-looking Wahlberg gets in touch with his former juvenile delinquent and produces a complete character, rather than the empty, gun-wielding clone we expect. Former singer and Tommy Hilfiger model Gibson is probably the weakest of the four leads but certainly not abysmal. Hedlund is perhaps the deepest, darkest of the brothers and has certain murky things in his past that are worse than jail, guns or drugs (which all the brothers share). Though little of this is actually shown, his character’s behavior in his most tense situation is downright creepy and even tear-jerking. And OutKast’s Benjamin sparkles in his most important scene and is well-chosen as the “good-guy” among the brothers.
Terrence Howard headlines the supporting players and adds a strong turn as the good-cop-amongst-corruption to his already impressive winning streak this summer, following “Hustle and Flow” and “Crash.” Both of those films are still in theaters and trump “Four Brothers” with ease, but if you can overlook the slight tendency of an occasional brain-cell ambush, the movie provides a passable action romp that sends a tough summer season out on a high note.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars