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Four Brothers Print E-mail
Friday, 01 December 2006

Image “Four Brothers” is based on a sturdy, familiar element: revenge. When foster parent Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) gets killed in what looks like an unfortunate convenience store robbery, her four “sons” return to town for her funeral and stay on for a little hands-on vengeance. The action stays down and dirty but mixes in some political crime and one of the sleekest, nastiest villains to reach the screen in some time.

The movie is a potboiler of the first degree, a rolling juggernaut of pacing, sketchy but solid characterization, and bone-jarring violence. During a dearth of R-rated films and departure for a kinder and gentler violence, death and mayhem, “Four Brothers” stands out from the current crop of DVD fare.

Video Presentation: The HD DVD in 1080i shows the hard edges and the grit of the urban landscape. During the chase through the snow-covered streets about halfway through, you can see the individual flakes swirling. The disc offers one of the best transfers I’ve seen and brings the quality of the big-screen theater into the home. Some of the most intense scenes are shot on a frozen river, and they stand out crisp and clear instead of being lost in the stark whiteness, which is what happens to some movies shown in a lesser format. Audio Presentation: The opening segment of the movie is low-key, but when the robbery goes down, the huge noise of the shotguns fills the surround sound and blasts the subwoofer. Using a mostly ‘70s beat musical score, “Four Brothers” offers a lot in the way of audio presentation. The roar of the car engines during the chase segment, the sound of colliding metal tearing, put the viewer directly in the middle of the action. The separation of sounds is well done and rivets viewer’s attention.

Mark Wahlberg plays Bobby Mercer, the eldest brother of the four. Wahlberg appeared in a long line of action-driven movies (“The Big Hit”, “The Italian Job”) and knows how to deliver. In “The Big Hit”, he played an assassin who knew martial arts and was also a high-powered gunman. His Bobby Mercer is more of a child of the streets. His actions and his violence aren’t refined, they’re more an extension of the anger that seems to always be boiling just below the surface.

Played by Tyrese Gibson (“2 Fast 2 Furious”), Angel Mercer is as violent as Bobby, without the anger. He’s more cool and calculating, but his weakness is Sofi (Sofia Vergara), a neighborhood girl he’s always had the hots for. Tyrese has great screen presence and I’m looking forward to seeing how he does in the upcoming “Luke Cage” movie, based on the Marvel Comics character.

Jeremiah Mercer (André’ Benjamin, from the band Outkast) is the quiet brother, the one who turned his back on the streets and settled for a relatively stable life as a businessman, husband and father. He has secrets and problems he’s hiding from his brothers. Benjamin does well in the role, really bringing it home and making viewers believe in him.

Garrett Hedlund (“Friday Night Lights”) stars as Jack Mercer, the most troubled of the four brothers, the one everyone picks on and takes care of. He’s become a hard metal rocker and is still kind of quiet and shy.

John Singleton (“Boyz In The Hood”, “Baby Boy”, and “2 Fast 2 Furious”) knows his way around the urban sprawl and how the different facets of a community work. There are four pieces at work here: the killers, the brothers, the law, and the community, all of them more or less working against the other while trying to maintain status quo. Singleton’s filmwork is as sleek as a bullet and propels the story through a gamut of emotions till it reaches the brutal end.

The movie opens almost gently, with a young boy caught stealing candy in the local convenience store. Aging but rough-and-ready Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) works with the clerk to throw the fear of the law into the boy, then sends him on his way. Almost immediately, two robbers step into the store and gun down the clerk. They hear Evelyn and—although the movie doesn’t show it at this point—gun her down in cold blood. The detonation of the shotgun rounds splits the surround sound and explodes from the subwoofer loud enough to deliver a physical blow to the listener’s body as well as his ears. I’ve not heard anything as grim and forbidding as those hollow sounds in a long time.

The action shifts to Bobby Mercer as he rolls into the old neighborhood not long thereafter. He carries a sense of menace with him and doesn’t look at all comfortable in the shirt and tie he’s wearing. At Evelyn’s funeral, he hooks up with his brothers Jeremiah and Jackie. Lieutenant Green (Terrence Howard, “Idlewild”, “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’”), the police detective in attendance, talks to his partner, Detective Fowler (Josh Charles, “S.W.A.T.”, “The Underworld”); Green gives him a brief rundown on the Mercer brothers. These are the only four boys for whom Evelyn, a hard-working foster mother, ever failed to find a home. Fowler can’t believe she would even bother, and thinks none of the brothers has turned out well. Green says that they’re saints compared to what they would have been.

After the funeral, the brothers return to their mother’s house and find Angel there. The camaraderie between the four is real, a mixture of sadness and horseplay that is understated and comes across as very natural. Director John Singleton’s camerawork inside the house is so smooth that you’ll tend to forget you’re watching a movie and think you’re just one of the brothers strolling along through the house with them.

The brothers struggle with their loss, but Bobby seems to be the hardest hit. He tells the others to take their old rooms, which are pretty much the way they were when they left them, and he takes their mom’s. Although he plays the tough guy all the way through the movie, Bobby goes to the bathroom and cries for a while, then flops with his brother Jack, admitting that being in their mom’s room is just “too weird”.

Jeremiah takes them to a warehouse on which he almost closed a deal to refurbish as an office building. It was his dream and it almost came together. The background on that part of the story comes back into play later.

Shortly thereafter, the brothers are in a local bar for a drink. They hear the rumor that the local gangbangers playing basketball pulled the convenience store heist. Jeremiah opts out of the ensuing action, stating that he has a wife and kids and can’t afford to get involved in anything like that. He urges Bobby to let the police handle it. Of course, Bobby can’t, and he leads Jack and Angel into the fray, tracking down their mother’s killers.

The trail, which most viewers would think would probably just be straight and narrow, is actually twisted and takes on a whole new murderous depth. After the brothers track down and kill the two hired guns who killed Evelyn, they want to go after whoever contracted the job.

The story and the camera swing to Victor Sweet (Chiwetel Ejiofor, “Inside Man” and “Serenity”). Sweet is a deadly killer who, like the brothers, grew up in the neighborhood. Ejiofor delivers the character with cold calculation that is as attention-getting as a coiled snake. We can quickly tell that no one likes him, but everyone is afraid of him. He chews his men out for hiring local shooters instead of going out of town. Then he assigns his men to find out who killed the shooters, and the war is begun.

On the surface, “Four Brothers” looks like a run-of-the-mill action/revenge movie with a few celebrities who want to get together and talk and act tough. It’s actually a loose remake of “The Sons of Katie Elder”, in which John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman, and Michael Anderson, Jr. rode into town to avenge their father’s death and the bilking of their mother. It’s kind of weird that an urban action would be based on movie and a John Wayne Western, but it was.

Singleton’s direction provides is subtle, moving the story along from moment to moment. The scenes with Sofi going crazy on Angel leaven the dark moments with some welcome off-beat humor. The scenes, although all in the neighborhood, show a lot of different settings so the movie world doesn’t become overly familiar.

The Special Features portion of the disc has a number of sections, but many of them begin to get repetitive. Mostly what everyone talks about is the message of brotherhood and how much fun they had making the movie. The Deleted Scenes are worth going through just to see some of the background exposition that got left on the cutting room floor. Losing the material didn’t hurt the movie, but the scenes do flesh out details if you like the move.

I had a great time with the film. It felt very much like the Western it’s based on—and that was brought up on several occasions—and holds an air of timelessness. Revenge has always been one of the big stories, so it’s no real surprise that it works again. “Four Brothers” is definitely a buddy flick, one that a group of guys can sit around and watch. Singleton is really at his best when exploring the nature of guys’ relationships with each other, and in the film he gets to spend a lot of time at it.

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