Comic drama. Tender violence. Tough vulnerability. Exotic greyness. All these otherwise self-contradicting expressions may not apply anywhere else, but in the action-drama-thriller film “Four Brothers.”
Creatively written by Daniel Elliot and carefully directed by John Singleton, the youngest director ever to receive an Oscar nod for the inner-city drama “Boyz n the Hood,” “Four Brothers” reveals the struggle-filled lives of four men from different races and with different aspirations who are bound by two things – deep, brotherly solidarity, and the strong desire to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of their mother.
As the tag-line says, “they came home to bury mom…and her killer.”
In short, the story, set in the less-than-exotic city of Detroit is about four young men – Bobby, Angel, Jeremiah and Jack – who were about to turn from delinquents to hardened criminals until the sweet, noble and loving Evelyn Mercer came to their rescue. Selflessly, she pulls them out of the soulless, unforgiving foster-care system and brings them up in her own home as if they were her own flesh and blood. Even though later on they all went their separate ways and each one of them has their own diverse life experience ranging from joining the Marines, passing through establishing a small business and finishing with punk-rock tryouts, they never forget their foster-mother and her unconditional goodness.
So naturally when she is gunned down in an apparent store holdup with Thanksgiving just around the corner, the four men gather and are determined and merciless in finding the person behind the ugly accident, ruthlessly defying police orders and social norms in the process.
Bobby Mercer, the eldest brother, seems to be one of the most violent and, at the same time, lovable (yes, lovable) characters. Portrayed by Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (“The Departed,” “Boogie Nights”), the former U.F.C. fighter and hockey player Bobby is extremely rough when antagonizing corrupt detectives and politicians, executing contract killers and fighting greedy crime bosses. At the same time, he becomes as soft as bread when talking to children, recalling his mother’s image and nursing his mortally wounded brother.
Talk about Jekyll and Hyde.
With his natural air of tough love and his inner-city upbringing, the Bostonian Wahlberg is the perfect actor for this role. Like in other movies such as “The Departed” and “The Shooter,” Wahlberg portrays a seemingly brutal person who enjoys terrorizing others, yet in the end he proves to be the just one.
Bobby Mercer is the big contrast of the shy, tender, vulnerable Jack – the youngest of the brothers. Presumably sexually abused as a young child, Jack melts the hearts of the audience with his baby-face sweet look and with his naïve aspirations of becoming a rock star. The big-screen newcomer, 20-year-old Garrett Hedlund (“Eragon”), makes Jack’s character even more believable.
The former singer/songwriter Tyrese Gibson (“Transformers”) livens up the overall gloomy screen atmosphere in his role of Angel, the playboy brother. The Colombian telenovela star and Broadway debutante Sofia Vergara (“Chicago”) introduces hilarity on the screen by portraying Sofi – Angel’s big-mouthed Latina girlfriend. Nicknamed “La Vida Loca” and “Loco Ono” by Bobby, Vergara’s character seems like a Cancun spring break vacation amid the stressful academic year.
Andre Benjamin does just OK in his role of Jeremiah – the most mature, serious and prosperous of the brothers. He is the most decent one, yet he mostly sits on the fence.
However, the most eye-watering image of the entire film is that of the mother Evelyn Mercer. One will quickly snatch to the tissue box when viewing the 5-foot, 63-year-old lady pleading for her life with the gunman, giving life lessons to another foster-child and guiding her grown-up sons in their daydreams.
Even though the character of Evelyn has relatively short screen time, the Irish-theater actress Fionnula Flanagan (“The Others”) creates the feeling that the slain lady is omnipresent.
Because of this, Evelyn is the most pivotal figure in the movie.
Even the soundtrack selection (Marvin Gaye, etc.) and the clips accompanying the final credits give the feature presentation some sense of sweet defiance and lightness.
They seem to illustrate the sayings “Life goes on” and “All’s well that ends well” better than anything else.