Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Just for Flint - a late review of FOUR BROTHERS

Let it never be said that I am not all about consumer rights. I must admit to having used my usual short-hand for mediocre flicks in describing FOUR BROTHERS as a "p*ss-poor seventies remake". It really isn't that bad. On the other hand, it really isn't that good. Let me break it down for you. Once upon a time, there was a talented black director called John Singleton who made movies that went beyond gangsta-rap stereotypes and were as emotionally engaging as they were slick. But it has been a long time since flicks like Boyz'n'the hood. Every time I see a Singleton movie lined up I get all hopeful, only to have my optimisim dashed on the rocks of tired cliche.

FOUR BROTHERS is another lazy film that aspires to break beyond the stereotype of the standard gangsta revenge flick but fails miserably. It tells the superficially politically correct tale of four adopted brothers - two black, two white - whose mother is shot down in a robery gone wrong. After her death, they set out to avenge her. The script was written by two guys who grew up watching spaghetti westerns and have supposedly ripped on the genre but what we really get is the standard buddy movie crossed with a very thinly plotted thriller. When a beloved cast member dies, you know his best friend is shouting "Breathe! Just breathe!" When one of the good guys goes of to war, you know his wife will tell the best friend, "Just bring him back to me in one piece". You can probably buy these pages by the yard at WalMart. And believe me, you'll have figured out who the patsy is, and who the real villain is, by around 30 minutes in.

The performances are fairly indifferent. In particular, Chiwetel Ejiofor, the wonderful lead actor in DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, is completely mis-cast as the gangster, Sweets. Wahlberg is on auto-pilot as big brother Mercer, and the other three brothers are largely forgettable. Terrence Howard - the tremendous actor from HUSTLE AND FLOW - has a small and powerful cameo as a copper, but for some inexplicable reason Singleton cast sometime-teen-idol Josh Charles as his sidekick. Another case of an actor being either horribly mis-cast or just not terribly good.

On a technical level there is nothing wrong with the flick. The photography is in typical "Western" style - lots of master shots with the good guys on one side of the frame and the bad guys on the other. However, I have serious issues with the soundtrack. The songs are all soul and funk classics from the late 1960s and 1970s. The songs evoke a certain era of film-making, namely blaxploitation flicks. This just adds another layer to the "genre confusion" within FOUR BROTHERS. Is it a thriller? A blaxploitation flick? An urban western? In the end, I think it falls through the cracks into the wide chasm of mediocrity below.

FOUR BROTHERS was on cinematic release in autumn 2005. It is now available on DVD.


  1. First of all, I'm totally flattered that you actually listened to my whining and did a full review. Much appreciated. That being said, I totally disagree with the majority of it. The problem I think lies in viewer expectations. I went into this movie with little thought of the fact Singleton directed it, instead looking to see what a movie with so many actors I liked would come out looking like. And what I got was a really fun movie with a great villain and an interesting enough mystery in the middle of it. I won't claim that the movie had any actual depth, sociological or otherwise to it, but that is definitely not a prerequisite for one to enjoy a movie. That Singleton made a couple of movies in that mold doesn't mean that he must then be pigeonholed into the role of explainer of young black masculinity in America. Maybe he just felt like loosening things up a little bit. If you just go in and enjoy the movie, Four Brothers has some really great performances. Andre 3000, Mark Wahlberg and surprisingly, Tyrese settle comfortably into their characters and are really fun to watch, individually and interacting. The little brother, whoever he's played by, is completely irrelevant. Terrence Howard is ordinarily a great actor but here he doesn't have much to do and I don't think he does much with that little. As for Mr. Ejiofor, here's where I really take umbrage at Bina's review. He's bloody amazing. A villain whose men don't respect him, who we're told has been that way since childhood, a man with a flair for the dramatic, a natural bully who hides his insecurity in bluster, a chump who has nevertheless built himself to the position of boss? Gaddamit, I like that man! Ejiofor is totally awesome in that role, as he is in everything. You hate him, you despise him, you kind of feel sorry for him and everyone that has to work for him; he's bloody brilliant and one of the most interesting villains to hit a screen in a long time. Check this movie out one weekend when you really need entertaining. And with that, I end my tirade.

  2. Glad it worked for you, Flint! Perhaps I do contextualise movies too much, and shouldn't expect a "Singleton" flick every time. But if I want low grade entertainment, I'll just watch Sin City. Within the genre Four Brothers aspires to, I'll take NARC for my money. And Andre 3000?! Really?! Wow. Different strokes, man.