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Movie Review

Evelyn Mercer is a sweet older lady who spent her life trying to help people, including working as a foster mom to place a string of troubled youth in good homes. She adopted four of the roughest boys herself—two white and two black—raising them as her own.

So, when Evelyn is murdered in a convenience store robbery in her run-down Detroit neighborhood, her four adopted sons return home for the funeral and stick around to track down her killers.

In their 20s and 30s, the four are still a rough bunch and still close. Bobby’s the petty criminal who likes to fight. Angel is an ex-hustler and a ladies man. Jeremiah, the oldest, has settled down with a wife, kids and a business. The youngest, Jack, is trying to make it as a rock star.

After some crying, drinking, lots of swearing and little street ice hockey, the brothers start asking questions about the gang members who supposedly killed their mom. Although warned off by the cops, they continue their dangerous hunt to avenge her death.

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Positive Elements

Evelyn Mercer is practically a saint to her sons and the people in her neighborhood. Her selflessness in adopting them is heralded. Although they still dabble in crime and immorality, a police detective points out that the Mercer brothers are far better men than they would have been without Evelyn’s parenting. They’re a crude bunch and hard on each other, but these brothers are obviously close. They take care of each other and stick together in spite of social pressures that would divide them along racial lines.

Spiritual Content

Evelyn’s funeral and another are presided over by ministers. In her house, one son examines Evelyn’s rosary beads. Before a Thanksgiving meal, one of the four leads in a very traditional prayer beginning with, “Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.” However, little else in the film would suggest that these guys are guided by any kind of religious beliefs.

Sexual Content

A poster shows a woman’s backside in a very small thong. Angel “reclaims” an old girlfriend upon returning to Detroit, and we see the pair running in their underwear from her current armed-and-shooting boyfriend. The girlfriend, played by Latin TV star Sofia Vergara, wears tight and revealing clothing, as do other women in the film. We see the couple (still clothed) preparing to have sex on a dryer before being interrupted by the doorbell. And we witness her anger when she discovers lots of condoms in his coat pocket. Later, Angel removes a towel from around his waist in front of two of his brothers, asking if they think he’s got a venereal disease. One uses a crude phrase to describe what he sees. (The camera doesn't see what the brother sees, but it does show us another brother, who is showering at the time, fully naked from behind.)

The most aggressive sexual content is found in the extremely crude conversation between the brothers. Using imaginative and very descriptive phrases, Bobby barrages Jack with jokes about him being gay. (Jack insists he likes “boobies.”) Sexual acts and human anatomy are explicitly described in repeated crude expressions. (I won’t recreate any of it here, but much of it is quite graphic.)

The main villain tells a henchman that he’s going to have sex with the woman the henchman is engaged to. While being questioned by the police, all the brothers repeatedly use crude slang to tell the cops that they were having sex with the officers’ wives at the time of the crime in question.

Violent Content

Four Brothers is packed with action violence, some of which is bloody and/or gory. A convenience store clerk and Evelyn are gunned down with shotguns. In their search for information about the killers, the Mercers beat people up, pour gasoline on them (with the threat of lighting them on fire), chase them with cars and shoot at them.

Dogs attack one of the four, bloodying his arm. A man falls from a window, and we see the bone protruding from his broken leg. Hundred of bullets fly, nearly destroying a house in one instance. Good guys and bad are shot and killed at close range with bloody results. While interrogating the brothers, the police repeatedly hit them (faces and heads receive most of the punishment).

Crude or Profane Language

The Mercer brothers like to swear. More than 60 f-words and 40 s-words are heard, along with multiple uses each of "d--n," "h---," "b--ch" and "a--." God’s name is interjected close to 10 times, and Jesus' name is uttered as a swear word. As mentioned, crude sexual expressions are used pervasively, including aggressive slang for male and female anatomy and various sexual acts.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The Mercer brothers and the bad guys drink during dinners, at home, in bars and while hanging out. Several characters also smoke, including at least one of the brothers.

Other Negative Elements

One brother is seen sitting on a toilet. Racial epithets include several uses of "n-gger." Also, the convenience store shooters call the Middle Eastern clerk “Osama,” proclaiming before blowing him away something like, “Black people don’t get what they want, so why should you.” Additionally, the Mercers mock Angel’s Latina girlfriend by calling her “Lavita Loco.”

Conclusion

Inspired by old Westerns and the manly-man films of Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood, Four Brothers owes more than a little to The Sons of Katie Elder. In that 1965 Western, John Wayne and Dean Martin star as two of four brothers who return to their Texas hometown to avenge the death of their dad. Of course, the Duke avoided saying the f-word or talking about other guys’ private parts, but director John Singleton attempts to bring that same sense of Wild West justice to his testosterone-fueled revenge tale.

He told chud.com, “In the era of the '70s ... they took Western archetypes and put them in urban milieus. The movies that came before that were Westerns, and they were often revenge-based—there was something bad that happened, there was a bad guy who did something bad or there was a set of bad circumstances and there had to be the cowboy, the good guy, who came to town to do the right thing. Sometimes in the wrong way but for the right reasons. That has kind of been lost for this generation. Even though the good guy is doing something righteous in their revenge, it’s in a bad way. It brings out the audience’s blood lust. So it’s like, ‘Get 'em, get 'em, get 'em!’ It’s a trip.”

To be honest, I didn’t sense much blood lust in the theater while I was screening this movie. The villain is just too silly, the ending too contrived and the reasons for Evelyn’s murder too murky. Some of it works to be sure, but not enough to hold everything together. The chemistry between the four brothers makes them likable. Their candid relationship generates a few moments of genuine humor. And one extended car chase in a Michigan blizzard is well-executed and exciting. What’s missing, though, is the film’s center. These guys just don’t seem as motivated to avenge their mom’s death as they are to wreak havoc for the pure joy of violence. Her murder is the perfect excuse to start hitting and shooting people. I didn’t buy that they felt the need to do it for her. They’re just having too much fun.

Even so, I'm left pondering this question: Is trying to incite audiences to gleeful vicarious revenge a good idea?

According to mtv.com, Sofia Vergara, who plays Angel’s girlfriend, lost her brother when he was shot and killed in Colombia in 1998. “I think we’re doing the wrong things for the right person in the movie, but sometimes, you should just let go and keep going with your life," she said. "It’s hard, when something happens, to just sit back. ... But after a little while, it stops being important, and you realize the person is never coming back, no matter what you do. When the anger goes away, even if you do [get vengeance], what’s done is done.”

That attitude wouldn't satisfy the urban cowboys in Four Brothers, who despite praying to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ aren’t anywhere close to being ready to trust Him with handling vengeance.

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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