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Four Brothers

Right about now, John Singleton is sitting pretty. As a producer, he stands to gain a heap of praise for self-financing one of the best films of the year thus far, Hustle and Flow. As a director, his latest effort Four Brothers is a solid and engrossing revenge flick to say the least.

The trailers and the posters both want you to believe that this film is a straightforward revenge film right off the bat. It eventually gets there, but it’s the setup to the revenge arc that really makes things cook in the later acts.

Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) is a firm believer in the good that so often lies buried below the surface of many troubled youth. When we first meet Evelyn, she is scolding a young thief for his foiled attempt at lifting a tootsie roll from the local corner market. Her insights are admirable, informing the youth that he is better than that, and urging the clerk to coyly feign a phone call to the police. The lesson is clear, and her approach to the conflict is laced with love and genuine human spirit.

All of this is cut down in a hail of gunfire when hoodlums enter the liquor store, armed to the teeth with pistols and shotguns, and proceed to kill both the clerk and Evelyn in unnecessary cold blood. In an interesting use of voice-over given by police officer Lt. Green (Terrence Howard) as members of the Mercer family enter Evelyn’s wake, we learn that she had spent the majority of her life offering rehabilitation and open arms to those youth which society deemed lost causes. By opening her doors to foster children Evelyn not only gave countless lives a second chance, she also assisted in finding them loving homes to further their development and growth throughout the years.

As Lt. Green explains, in all of her years she only came across four truly lost causes. These four children were supposedly so far gone that no amount of reaching out could ever fully pull them back from the void to be placed in a safe and nurturing environment completely free from chaos. When faced with these obstacles, Evelyn chose to open her own home to these children, permanently, by adopting each one, and essentially saving them from much darker fates.

Bobby Mercer (Mark Wahlberg) returns home alongside his brother Jack (Garrett Hedlund). They meet up with their third brother, the seemingly straight-laced Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin) whose house and family are the essence of purity. The sibling missing from the funeral is Angel (Tyrese Gibson), who is labeled as the pretty boy, but still a grade A F-up just the same.

One point of contention with the film is that the brothers' past sins are mentioned several times throughout the film, but the degree to which these troubled pasts extended is shrouded in subtle dismissal. Basically, we are to accept that these characters dwelled amongst the most dastardly villains to walk the street, yet the particulars are limited to asides such as “remember when?” and the like. It’s a dismissible nitpick in the end, but while establishing the characters it is a point that calls itself to attention frequently.

Yet despite this smattering of vague exposition, the initial establishment of these characters is what drives the film in the later acts rife with revenge conventions. In fact, the subject of seeking revenge comes up in happenstance and seemingly natural through the course of the brothers mourning. It is implied repeatedly that Bobby’s only reason for returning would be to seek vengeance, but this is never really touted heavily until suspicion begins to flourish.

The brothers begin looking into the details surrounding their adopted matriarch’s death, and it becomes clear that the further they delve, the more the facts begin to conflict with one another. As the plot winds down, we are submitted to a string of red-herrings that hold weight enough to keep you on your toes.

Singleton loves to paint in broad grey strokes, weaving a canvas from his primary contrasting colors of choice, which often seem to lead back to black and white. His palette is ripe with the understanding that evil isn’t defined by color, and that heroes can also find ways to transcend social stereotypes. Make no mistake, there is a reason behind the pairing of the brothers along with the clothes they wear, the villains wear, hell, even the weather plays a factor in his canvas.

Nothing is ever cut and dry, and Singleton revels in this notion and the audience gets to reap the benefits with a purely entertaining film.


Mario Anima

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