‘Four Brothers’ is a smart, fun film from director John Singleton

From left to right: Garrett Hedlund, Tyrese Gibson, Mark Wahlberg and André Benjamin in ‘Four Brothers’

There is something to be said about straight up action flicks that don’t pretend to be something else. I respect films like that, because they are unapologetic in their tone and treatment of violence. But sometimes in the process they become something more. Something with heart and intelligence. A well-crafted action flick can truly be a great film.

That’s what I found with Four Brothers.

It is not only a smart film, it’s a fun film, one I could easily watch again and still enjoy. John Singleton manages to merge a sense of urban realism that he did so well in Boyz n the Hood and the fun spirit of the 1970s action flick like his Shaft remake. Four Brothers is then given unique tones that were both surprising and refreshing.

The story is sparked by the murder of Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan), a do-gooder who spent her life caring for foster children. After she is killed, four especially bad boys who she ultimately adopted reunite in order to find out who murdered her. The foursome is led by Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), a bear of a man whose violent nature makes him dangerous. He is accompanied by Angel (Tyrese Gibson), another troublemaker who escaped into the Marines; Jeremiah (André Benjamin), a businessman and father of two who has shed his violent past; and Jake (Garrett Hedlund), a troubled teen and youngest of the foursome. They challenge the police and discover corruption and lies that eventually lead them to Detroit’s most powerful and deadliest criminal, Victor Sweet (Chiwetel Ejiofor). But they may have bitten off more than they can chew, as Sweet owns the cops and politicians, leaving the four brothers out in the cold and on thin ice.

What’s funny about Four Brothers is that we learn as much as we’re ever going to in the first 10-15 minutes of the film. Yet somehow Singleton makes each of the four brothers unique and rich characters. Not only is this impressive but speaks volumes not only of his talents, but the actors as well. Wahlberg gives his best performance since Boogie Nights, filling Bobby’s shoes perfectly. And Benjamin, the singer known as André 3000 with Outkast, is terrific as the straight-and-narrow brother. Hedlund also successfully emotes the troubled mind of his character, whose dark childhood is merely suggested but never explored, while Gibson is always cool yet at the same time human.

Accompanying these terrific characters are some outstanding action sequences, most notably the shootout at the brother’s family home. This sequence is just perfect, not the usual Hollywood fair, but real and fantastic all at the same time. The car chase in the snow is also outstanding, if a little too heavy with dialogue. But the moments that really stood out the most for me were the brief instances where each of the brothers have a spiritual encounter with their mother. These were small pieces of heart that really made you feel for each brother, connecting with the characters in a way that is rare in action flicks.

The DVD includes the usual kinds of special features, such as behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and audio commentary. I was impressed by the commentary, only in that Singleton seemed far more down to Earth than he has in some interviews I’ve read. His commentary is a good mix of behind-the-scenes details and technical information. The deleted scenes are okay, and the featurettes are all the average deal. But it is really the film that shines here, and Four Brothers is probably one of 2005’s best in my book.

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