Title: Four Brothers
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Play time: 1h 49min
Director: John Singleton
Screenwriters: David Elliot, Paul Lovett
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, André Benjamin
Four Brothers is a good film buried under heaps of excess. John Singleton begins it commandingly, painting the story — four “lost cause” adoptive brothers, two black and two white, reunite to grieve over and perhaps avenge their mother — in big, dramatic gestures, doing comparatively uncouth things like bringing the dead woman back to talk to each of the men in turn at the dinner table, and cinematic decorum be damned.
He lingers on anguished close-ups of Mark Wahlberg, almost inviting derision from those who have come to expect irony. The first twenty minutes of the film play like Singleton genuinely feels for these characters and wants to take their plight at face value, which is refreshing, and even kind of moving in itself.
Opinion: Full Blown Action Movie – Four Brothers
Then, sadly, the plot kicks in, and does it ever. Suddenly the movie launches into a full-blown and often bewildering murder investigation. The “mystery” is plotted mechanically, with obligatory revelations coming at fifteen-minute intervals; often, the new information we get seems arbitrary, as if the characters plucked it from thin air. At one point, they conclude that the beloved Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) was targeted for murder, rather than merely caught in the crossfire of an armed robbery, but just how they reach this conclusion from the information available remains beyond me.
None of it is very well thought-out. The villain pops up out of the blue, as if someone decided it was time to introduce the villain, and so we quickly get a scene in which a gangster (Chiwetel Ejiofor) menaces his henchmen, apropos of nothing, making them eat off the floor and perform other distasteful acts.
Then the screenplay sees fit to abandon this thread for a while; it returns later and remains neither here nor there. The resolution is elaborate and quasi-laughable; I didn’t really care one way or another, since though the first act gave me some level of involvement with the four protagonists, the story the film gives them never drew me in.
Does Four Brothers Misses a Crucial Movie Plot?
It’s all too much. Complaints about a lack of substantial plot are common in reviews, but Four Brothers film suffers from the opposite. The screenplay lays it on too thick, adds too many needless complications and twists, detracting from the elegant simplicity of the characters and the situation. How do these people deal with the loss of the person who, we are told, plucked them off the streets and gave them a chance at a life? We never find out. They’re too busy following incoherent leads and duking it out with menacing gangsters by ice fishing holes.
We are teased further by a wonderful performance from Andre Benjamin (a.k.a. Andre 3000, he of the musical group Outkast), whose character unfortunately turns out to be a hideous red herring. Before that happens, though, his role almost belies the lovely grandiloquence of the film’s opening — he’s so fierce and genuine that he seems to be working on a whole other level.
Wahlberg Shines Like Usually
No one else ever catches up to him: Wahlberg, whom I usually like, is eventually defeated by Singleton’s evident desire to fetishize his anguished face, while Garrett Hedlund embarrasses himself in a series of awful reaction shots. Tyrese, who got acclaim for his lead turn in Singleton’s Baby Boy, is mostly banished to the background here.
What surprised me most was how insignificant Four Brothers turned out to be. I love genre films, but this is a bad one, and I was expecting a return to form for Singleton after his similarly poor 2 Fast 2 Furious lark. This isn’t it.