Thursday, August 18, 2005

REVIEW: Four Brothers

Somewhere in my hard drive, no doubt buried under a heap of half-downloaded pornography and half-completed screenplays, there's a half-completed list of film-related items I'd like to call a moratorium on. I distinctly remember one entry, right near the top, being the pitching of films to the public as "It's a western but set in ______."

Which is not to say that I've got an issue with "modern westerns" or even films that claim to be such... it's merely that the semantics of it bother me: "Western" isn't technically a genre, it's a setting. The majority of Westerns are action or drama films SET in the Old West, yes, but that doesn't make every modern action or drama- even those involving vigilante justice -film a reimagined western in any reality other than that of marketing executives. And yet, each year it seems that every other gritty "guy movie" is aiming to pass itself off as "a modern western." "Four Brothers" even goes the extra step of presenting itself as a loose remake of the John Wayne classic "The Sons of Katie Elder."

Which isn't to say it's a bad film. In fact, it's damn good.

The story you know from the trailers: Saintly Detroit foster-mother Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) is senselessly murdered during a convenience store robbery. Her four self-adopted sons, the infamous "four boys so bad no one but her would take them," arrive for the funeral: Angel (Tyrese Gibson) is a Marine, Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000 of "OutKast") is a married businessman, Jack (Garret Hedlund) is a wannabe rocker and Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) is a hotheaded hood who suspects foul play and marshals his "brothers" to help seek revenge on Evelyn's still-at-large killers. Few will be surprised to learn that the Mercer Bros. initially myopic quest for vengeance soon unveils a larger conspiracy, putting them up against local corruption and dangerous crimelords.

What we've got here is a fine, ruthlessly-efficient genre piece by John Singleton. The characters are well drawn, the mystery is appropriately twisty and the action wisely evolves as the film goes on: Realistic gunfights to start with, followed progressively by car chases and elaborate interogations building to a pull-out-the-stops 3rd act featuring vans full of armed goons, police phalanxes and a climax involving chainsaws, a frozen lake and mano-a-mano honorable-fisticuffs.

There's no greater aim here than the core basics: A good story well told, punctuated where appropriate by comedy, action and drama. This is Grade-A street-tough action filmmaking, destined for a long future as an eventual basic cable mainstay. And it's definately an improvement over Singleton's last directorial effort, the disasterous "2 Fast 2 Furious." Reccomended.