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Four Brothers Review

By Shawn McKenzie 08/15/2005

I was so excited to find out that Mark Wahlberg was finally going to be in a big wide release that wasn’t a remake.  In the last four years, he has been in five movies…and three of them were remakes (2001’s Planet of the Apes; 2002’s The Truth About Charlie, a.k.a. Charade; 2003’s The Italian Job.)  Now he is in his sixth movie since 2001, and I thought that it was going to be an original movie.  After a little bit of research, I found out that Four Brothers is…another remake!

At a convenience store in Detroit, Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan), one of the nicest women on the planet, gives a stern lecture to Darnell (Tahliel Hawthorne), a little boy who has just stolen a candy bar from the shopkeeper, Samir (Pablo Silveria.)  Darnell leaves, and two masked guys (Richard Chevolleau and Awaovieyi Agie) driving an El Camino enter the store and kill Samir.  Evelyn tries to hide, but the robbers find her and kill her.  It turns out that she was a saint to practically everyone, and that she took in dozens of foster children throughout her life, except for four boys.  Bobby (Wahlberg), Angel (Tyrese Gibson), Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin), and Jack (Garrett Hedlund) were the only four boys that she wasn’t able to find someone to adopt them…so she adopted them herself.  Bobby is the oldest brother, and he was a hockey player who is fresh out of jail that was never able to make it into the pro league.  Angel was a former street hustler and a former Marine.  He is still a ladies’ man though, and he is looking forward to seeing his former girlfriend Sofi (Sofía Vergara), whom he nicknames “La Vida Loca.”  Jeremiah, a.k.a. Jerry, is the only one of the brothers who stayed in Detroit and led what some people might consider a normal life.  He is married to Camille (Taraji P. Henson), he was a onetime union organizer, and now he has been trying to work in business real estate.  He doesn’t want anything to do with any possible troublemaking that the other brothers might get into.  The youngest brother, Jack, is an aspiring musician.  While attending Evelyn’s funeral, the brothers run into a childhood friend turned cop Lt. Green (Terrence Howard) and his partner Detective Fowler (Josh Charles.)  They want to know what Green and Fowler are going to do about the killers, and the detectives assure them that they will handle it.  They spend Thanksgiving in Evelyn’s house, and later, in a local bar, they learn from Johnny the Bartender (Conrad Bergschneider) that the murder may have been premeditated.  They launch their own investigation, which involves checking out the surveillance tape from Samir’s father Maschur (Costin Manu); finding Damian (Lyriq Bent), the brother of one of the witnesses named Keenon (Kevin Duhaney), at a basketball game; and running into another childhood friend named Evan (Jernard Burks), who leads them to Councilman Douglas (Barry Shabaka Henley.)  After threatening to set Douglas on fire, he tells the brothers about local crime boss Victor Sweet (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who has his fingers in many shady dealings.  One of his many deals involves some of Jeremiah’s business attempts, which may explain why he is the only brother who isn’t too keen on the investigation thing.  From then on, with one eye on Jeremiah, the brothers enact revenge on anyone who was responsible for the death of their mother, who would have hated that they were doing anything violent.

Unofficially, the studio hasn’t acknowledged that it is a remake (if they did, it would probably be billed as “loosely based.”)  The movie is a remake of the 1965 John Wayne Western The Sons of Katie Elder, though there are a few differences.  It is a modern tale in the city instead of a Western.  The mother wasn’t killed…she died of natural causes (though her husband was shot in the back after losing their property in a card game…hence the revenge.)  Otherwise, it is the same.  Four brothers come back for their mother’s funeral.  Virtually everyone considered the mother a saint, and the brothers weren’t exactly model sons.  The brothers take it upon themselves who the bad guys were instead of letting the law handle it, and one of the brothers meets his maker.

Director John Singleton is no stranger to remakes.  In 2000, he remade the 1971 classic Shaft.  Love it or hate it, I liked the version…in fact, I liked it better than the original.  While I liked this movie better than Katie Elder, it didn’t blow me away.  The story didn’t interest me in the same way that other revenge movies have in the past, like 2003’s A Man Apart, last year’s Man on Fire, or either Kill Bill Vol. 1 or 2 (though it is much better than last year’s The Punisher by a wide margin.)  Maybe it’s that the “lessons” taught by Evelyn weren’t getting through, because they seem to kill people in cold blood (Wayne and his posse killed people, but not in cold blood.)  If they had to kill, I’m surprised that they didn’t do it in a more creative way, like Denzel Washington’s character in Fire.  I will admit that their search for the killers contained one memorable scene during an interrupted basketball game.

The acting was top notch though.  Real life musicians (or former musicians) play three out of the four brothers.  Wahlberg, as everyone knows, used to go by the name Marky Mark, and he is a much better actor than he was a rapper.  Gibson has three albums under his belt (even Wahlberg only has two) and a few top 40 hits.  He is a Singleton veteran, having been in two other films for the director in the past.  Benjamin, a.k.a. André 3000 from the rap duo OutKast, is a relative newcomer to the acting game.  He has had very minor roles in 2003’s Hollywood Homicide and this year’s Be Cool, but this is his first starring role, and he is a natural.  As a musician, he is definitely the most successful of the brothers.  He and OutKast partner Antwan “Big Boi” Patton have had many top 40 hits and their double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below won the 2004 Grammy for Album of the Year.  I don’t know much about Hedlund, other than he was in both Troy and Friday Night Lights last year, but he wasn’t very memorable.  Ironically, his character is the only musician in the movie.

I’m not going to fault Four Brothers for being yet another remake.  We’ve all seen far worse remakes made this year.  I’m just disappointed that it wasn’t one of Singleton’s best movies.  Aside from a creative and tense car chase in the snow, it was a standard issue revenge flick.  My personal favorite has always been 1995’s Higher Learning, followed by his first movie, 1991’s Boyz n the Hood.  I’m hoping that his planned live action adaptation of the comic book character Luke Cage will come to materialize sometime next year.  Not every director can be perfect, but with Singleton’s critical batting average, this movie is a relatively minor bump.


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