It’s easier to get into the story logic of Four Brothers if you remind yourself that your watching a western transplanted to the urban streets of inner city Detroit, and that the original starred John Wayne. This 2005 John Singleton film is an update of 1965’s The Sons of Katie Elder.
Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) made it her business to funnel troubled inner city kids out of the foster care system into permanent homes. Four, however, were so incorrigible that no one would take them in, so she adopted them herself. Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) is a former hockey player with a bad reputation. Angel (Tyrese Gibson) joined the army. Jack (Garrett Hedlund) is a third-tier rock musician. Jeremiah (André Benjamin) has gone the straight and narrow path, getting married and starting a real estate business. This unlikely family is reunited after their mother is gunned down in what looks like a convenience store robbery.
Ignoring pleas from an old friend who’s now a cop (Terrence Howard) to let the police handle the case, three of the brothers set out to find how who killed their mother and get some payback. Stable, successful Jeremiah doesn’t want to upset the apple cart. A little digging reveals that the story of a simple robbery by two gangbangers is a cover for a hit on their mother.
When it’s discovered that Jeremiah’s business was in trouble due to problems with a construction union controlled by a local gangster (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and that their mother took out a life insurance policy that none of the other brothers knew about, Bobby, Angel and Jack begin to wonder if they should be looking closer to home.
Despite the gritty urban setting, this story works just as well if you replace Tec-9’s with six-guns, bars with saloons and Michigan snow for prairie dust. This film should not be confused with Singleton’s realistic takes on urban life in previous films. This is a revenge thriller in which story logic sometimes takes a back seat. Given the amount of gun play, the lack of police response would be somewhat disquieting in an actual urban setting, but if you imagine the two cops as the town sheriff and his only deputy, it makes a lot more sense.
The performances from the four brothers are solid, charismatic and likeable. Mark Wahlberg may not ever replace the Duke, but he does seem to have more miles on him in this movie than a cheap set of retread tires. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a villain very different but every bit as compelling as his recent role in Serenity. The action, while over the top, is expertly staged and never requires the kind of suspension of disbelief that gives you a hernia. In short, it’s a better than decent guy flick. Rent it the next time the womenfolk are off the homestead.