“You keep knocking on the devil’s door long enough and sooner or later someone’s gonna answer you.”
Whether bound by blood or unconventionally, the bond between most brothers is unbreakable. In Four Brothers, Evelyn Mercer is a kind-hearted and warm elderly woman who has done a lot in her Detroit inner city community by helping to find homes to young delinquents, or in some cases, taking them in herself. While at a convenience store one late November snowy night, the store is held up by two gangsters who demand money. After getting the cash, the two lowlifes shoot the store owner and the only witness, Evelyn, to death at point blank range.
Evelyn’s death compels her adopted son, Bobby Mercer (Mark Wahlberg) to come back to Detroit to attend her funeral. While back, he reunites with his other adopted brothers, Jack Mercer (Garrett Hedlund), Jeremiah Mercer (Andre Benjamin), and later Angel Mercer (Tyrese Gibson). They all are different men, but they are all tied by Evelyn, and spent a good amount of their formative years under Evelyn’s care when no one else would take them in. Obviously, this makes her death really personal. As expected, the local police led by Terrence Howard think they have the case all solved, but there is many layers to this seemingly random murder. Eventually, the brothers launch their own investigation, which will lead them down a long and cold hard road to vengeance.
A very loose remake/retelling of the 1965 western The Sons of Katie Elder, Four Brothers is a solid if at times clunky addition to the revenge/vigilante subgenre of films. If there is no previous existing interest for these types of films on your end, look elsewhere. Upon first viewing, the film will probably play out as envisioned, as most revenge films do. But, there is enough here to not feel completely rote. Truth be told, it is a good effort by the writers to have a few different threads going on that link to the main plot, but it would have been better if the film played it a little more “straight.” So while there is a bit more than the movie can chew at times, it never loses the central focus that the characters have in avenging their mother.
Four Brothers works mostly because of the characters. They are all interesting, fairly likable, and possess a surprising amount of depth in my opinion for this type of movie. Mark Wahlberg playing the hothead and bad-ass Bobby Mercer is not really a stretch for him, but as the lead, his performance is good. As the youngest brother, Garrett Hedlund as Jack Mercer flexes the most acting muscle. He is the most vulnerable and probably the person the audience will feel for and connect with the most.
The other two brothers are portrayed by Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 of Outkast fame) and Tyrese Gibson, otherwise just known as Tyrese, the smooth R&B crooner. You would think that these two would be the weakest links, and while their characters are not as complex as Garrett Hedlund’s, they do not look out of place on camera. Both had prior experience before this movie, and by Hollywood’s standards, they have transitioned pretty well to the silver screen.
Terrence Howard, Josh Charles, and Taraji P. Henson are also featured in this film, and do as you would expect, though it is cool to see some of the actors like Henson be here before they really took off. And while her time is short, the woman cast as the slain mother deserves credit as well. It is not easy to connect with an audience in such a short amount of screen time, but what she brought to the role made me want to see the brothers exact revenge on the perpetrators. But the man with some real meat to his character aside from the main guys is easily Chiwetel Ejiofor. His role in this film is significantly different from his work in 12 Years a Slave, but it is really critical and anytime he is on screen, his magnetism is evident.
The movie is technically an action and crime thriller, but you would never know that it is also a comedy until the viewing. Most of it is intentional and comes as a result of the simple banter (largely improvised mostly) among brothers, which is necessary to buy into this brotherhood dynamic. At times however, the humorous tone does come off as somewhat inconsistent, mainly when the brothers are off on their investigation. Depending on who you are, this may irk you more than it did me, but it is prevalent enough to mention.
Director John Singleton has a few highly respectable credits to his directorial work such as Boyz in the Hood, Higher Learning, and even Baby Boy. This movie is not on par with the first two listed, but for one of his few “Hollywood” films, it is pretty competent. There is nothing dazzling done behind the camera, but there are two scenes (car chase, shootout) that seize attention. While mostly filmed in Canada, the movie never looks like it was filmed anywhere but Detroit.
Shot mostly in snowy settings, it does carry feelings of fleeting hope and harsh reality. And as touched upon earlier, this is a movie at the very least inspired by a Western, and after watching a second time, it does have a pronounced old-school feel to it. The soundtrack lends itself to this sentiment as well, as most of it is comprised of Motown classics and it ultimately gives the movie a retro feel.
Though flawed at times in tone and story strands, Four Brothers is still a pretty entertaining film that slots into the revenge subgenre nicely. If revenge films are a viewing pleasure from time to time, much worse could be done.
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