The film is anchored in the strong, macho camaraderie of the four excellent lead actors who convincingly portray two white and two African-American boys raised together as rough foster brothers adopted by a kind-hearted ex-hippie. The easy chemistry among the four is physical, both in interactions and how they move around their childhood home, and in their running graphic teasing. Their back story is smoothly relayed as police report summaries by Terrence Howard, convincingly using his third accent in a film this summer after "Crash" and "Hustle & Flow." (Also stay for the credits when sort of home movies are shown about the brothers' earlier experiences.) While Mark Wahlberg's swagger is a bit much, though worked in as an ex-hockey player context, each actor effectively embodies a unique character at a raw point in his life. Particularly outstanding as non-stereotypes are Garrett Hedlund, as an androgynous rocker haunted by past abuse, and André Benjamin, as a husband and father struggling with a business. Brit Chiwetel Ejiofor very effectively masters Americana as a head hood.
While director John Singleton said on "Charlie Rose" that he sees the film as a Western in the tradition of John Ford and Howard Hawks, it's more like Sam Pekinpah crossed with detective "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" twisty noir vengeance mysteries. The gritty one-on-one confrontations are much more effective than the exaggerated machine gunned destruction, even as Singleton brings unexpected poignancy to a key rampage through a sympathetic victim that is heartbreaking.
Ironically the ex-marine brother is not the lead expert of the four with guns. While this seems like the third in a recent trilogy of using Detroit as a violent wasteland, after the remake of "Assault on Precinct 13" and "Land of the Dead," Singleton accents the usual urban abandonment scenes by telescoping the action between wintry Thanksgiving to Christmas of constant snow, culminating in a white frozen climax that is more cleverly mano a mano and less violent than the preliminary confrontations. It would recall Springsteen's "Meeting Across The River" except that the soundtrack song selections instead superbly are later Motown, visualized nostalgically with '45's playing with the notable local skyline on that dark blue label. The rocker brother is a nice tribute to the city's white kick out the jams heritage as well. Unfortunately, the instrumental score is clunky and unsubtle.
The women are strictly ancillary for stereotypical uses, though respected by the men. Sofía Vergara as the "La Vida Loca" old irresistible girlfriend feistily adds to the multicultural mix.
Both for the violence and the blunt language, I thought it was really inappropriate that parents brought young children to the matinée I attended.
(Revised 29 March 2008 - evidently the version I submitted on 22 August 2005 offended someone)
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