Four Brothers (2005) ** 1/2
Directed by John Singleton; written by David Elliot and Paul Lovett; photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; editing, Bruce Cannon and Billy Fox; music, David Arnold; production design, Keith Brian Burns; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura; a Paramount Pictures release. 148 minutes. Rated R. CAST: Mark Wahlberg (Bobby Mercer), Tyrese Gibson (Angel Mercer), Andre Benjamin (Jeremiah Mercer), Garrett Hedlund (Jack Mercer), Terrence Howard (Lieutenant Green), Josh Charles (Detective Fowler), Sofia Vergara (Sofi), Fionnula Flanagan (Evelyn Mercer), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Victor Sweet), Taraji P. Henson (Camille Mercer).
When John Singleton was 23, his first feature "Boys N the Hood" -based on his observations and experiences --was a major hit. He also wrote the script. I wish he had also written "Four Brothers." As it stands, this movie is a wild and convoluted job.
In many ways, whether on purpose or by coincidence, the film is a sort of version of the 1965 Western "The Sons of Katie Elder," directed by Henry Hathaway, headlined by John Wayne - and to a smaller degree, starring Dean Martin plus other reliable actors. The movie relied heavily and nicely on great cinematography of the West. "Four Brothers" relies on a fabricated, depressing, wintry Detroit.
It opens well. Sixtyish Evelyn Mercer, (Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan), charming and sweet, arrives at a convenience store to straighten out a kid who swiped some candy. But then two masked gunmen appear, shoot the store's sole employee, and kill Mrs. Mercer. For no discernible reason, mind you.
It is Thanksgiving time. Four men -the brothers-two blacks and two whites, arrive for the funeral. We learn that Mrs. Mercer was a wonderful, dedicated person with a record of placing youngsters in the best possible foster homes. But when the (future) four were, one by one, unacceptable to all foster parents, Mrs. Mercer adopted the unrelated "pariah" youths who became the Mercer "brothers" and referred to Mrs Mercer as "mom."
Now they are men, and now they want to track down the assassins of Mrs. Mercer. And now I adopt the great Alfred Hitchcock's principle of not revealing the movie's plot. It is enough to say that the Mercer brothers have different personalities but a common goal : digging up the person(s) and the why(s) of their mother's killing. The leader of the quartet is Bobby Mercer, well-acted by Mark Wahlberg. Eventually they conclude that Mom's execution was a contract murder.
The brothers, shunning the police (for many reasons) will take the sleuthing and the action into their own hands. This is a complicated task. And it gets sometimes obscured by too much talk, by the casting of several nets, and so on. Agatha Christie is a model of logic in comparison.
The action ranges from the brothers' more or less logical sleuthing to rather inexplicable actions. One of the latter is such a striking car chase --during a snowstorm on an ice-covered road-that it may end up in the pantheon of chases.
There are action sequences that may be improbable in the eyes of many a viewer, such as a gathering on the huge ice expanse of Lake Michigan, shootouts of the Charles Bronson "Deathwish" genre that reach improbable levels, and more. Then there's the improbable role (s) of the police, including the latter's misdeeds. Throughout, the soundtrack is replete with Motown music, which sometimes times fits the action and the story -- and at other times does not.
The movie's length is excessive, yet the film is watchable even though often incoherent or at least eyebrow-raising. What is striking is the setting of Detroit and its lower depths. And what is impressive is that only bits of Detroit are included, with the bulk of the story shot in various Ontario (Canada) locations.