How much trouble we go through in our lives because of the family is well known by the four Mercer brothers, the protagonists of this entertaining 2005 crime-ghetto movie by John Singleton.
We are talking about the violent and unruly Bobby, Jack, Angel, and Jeremiah, or the number one dickheads in the long line of boys left to their lonely selves from a very young age.
After many years of these four delinquents leaving Detroit, they finally meet again, even if sadly, it is for the saddest of occasions.
Indeed, someone had killed the elderly woman who raised and welcomed them as children when no other family wanted them, Evelyn Mercer.
Upset by this incident, the boys reunite in their old maternal home, trying to digest the hard news and reconnect with their old neighborhood relationships.
The murder has deeply shaken the small community of their poor and run-down suburb, although the police practically already dismissed the case as an ordinary robbery.
Yet the four brothers smell a rat and believe that someone in town must necessarily know something, so they start beating hard among suspects and witnesses to gain information.
Unleashing a mess of drug dealers and local police informants, they finally arrive to discover the big-name crime boss in town: Victor Sweet.
This small-time boss is cruel and ruthless to his own men, who are fed up with being mistreated and humiliated for no reason.
But even among the police, some rotten officers might know something about Evelyn’s death. Hence, the brothers have to sort it out on their own in a distinctly unofficial way.
Meanwhile, between the good and the bad of these petty thugs, if nothing else, the family reunites and can spend quality time together in the fire of revenge.
A never exceptional director, but always quite good
Four Brothers is a 2005 movie that, quite simply, explores the affection and dedication between brothers through the crime genre covered with a tone of light pulp.
Under the direction of John Singleton, it is a testament to the director’s talent for bringing compelling and successful stories to the big screen.
Although he never produced anything qualifying as a masterpiece, his passing in 2019 displeased many fans worldwide.
It is no coincidence that this filmmaker, renowned for his solid direction without too many aesthetic frills, oversaw such resonant, unserious, but highly entertaining movies as the remake of Shaft and the second episode of Fast & Furious.
Among his creations, Four Brothers is the one I have enjoyed the most and rewatched several times, being a simple revenge fable focusing on pure entertainment without dwelling unnecessarily on philosophical or political themes.
The straightforward but punchy narrative has exuberant dialogue and quirky characters that immediately capture the audience’s interest without needing much introduction.
Moreover, numerous exciting action sequences blend seamlessly with moments of family humor set in the ghetto.
Despite the protagonists’ apparent carefree nature, the movie has quite good moments of tension, drama, and pathos through an accessible message of defiance and resolve: we’re bad guys and thugs but don’t touch our mama.
The screenplay by David Elliot and Paul Lovett keeps viewers’ attention without conceding any space for boredom, punctuating the dynamics among the members of this dysfunctional family with small intimate details.
Among the most moving aspects are the moments when the four brothers see the ghost of their missing mother again, where we understand their youthful difficulties and how hard it is for them to cope with the grief and loss of this mentor figure in their lives.
The many faces of tough Detroit
Of course, the cornerstone of the plot is the four actors who embody the multiracial brothers featured in the story.
Mark Wahlberg, an actor known for the grit of his characters, undoubtedly fills the role of the leader of this small family gang, brash and openly hostile against the world at large.
Next to him, Garrett Hedlund, on the other hand, is the youngest of the group: an aspiring artist, quiet and introverted, who effectively balances out the bolder nature of his cronies.
Instead, the energetic Tyrese Gibson and the more reflective André Benjamin play the two African American brothers.
Gibson is no less exuberant or trouble-inclined than Wahlberg, such as when he romances another gangster’s woman, played by the gorgeous future Modern Family star Sofía Vergara.
André Benjamin, by contrast, is the most responsible member of the criminal brood, the only one with a family and responsibilities.
In the storyline, he is married to the strong-willed and determined Taraji P. Henson, an actress many will remember fondly, for example, for her role in the intriguing sci-fi series Person of Interest or the entertaining action flick Proud Mary.
The wisdom and intelligence of the characters are embodied by their mother’s role, played by experienced actress Fionnula Flanagan, who appears as a guidance and spiritual figure for the protagonists, helping them confront their inner demons humorously and brilliantly.
The only flaw is the story’s villain, who is overly cartoonish and stereotypical in his pure and unmotivated evil.
Despite being the talented Chiwetel Ejiofor, probably the best actor in the entire cast, this character fails to fully convince.
Still, it remains a minor fault that does not affect the overall quality of Four Brothers, which performed significantly well against rival movies in 2005, grossing nearly $100 million.