I managed to miss Four Brothers when it was in the theaters and initially released on DVD. A Mark Wahlberg urban drama just didn't sound like something I'd be interested in. When it came out on Blu-ray however, I thought I'd give it a shot and to my surprise found an enjoyable and emotionally striking film that, while it is flawed, is better than one would expect from seeing the trailer.
Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) is a local hero in her lower income Detroit neighborhood. An ex-hippy, Evelyn is a tireless fighter for social justice, especially for children. Working to get orphaned and abused kids placed into foster homes, there were only four children that she encountered who she felt were too far gone and beyond saving. These children she adopted herself. They still turned out bad, street thugs and petty thieves, but they were much better than they would have otherwise been.
Years later after these four lost causes have left home; Mama Mercer is brutally gunned down during a convenience store robbery. Her four wayward sons, Bobby (Mark Wahlberg), Angel (Tyrese Gibson), Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin), and Jack (Garrett Hedlund) return home for the funeral and to see that her murderers are made to pay. As they look into it however, they discover that what appeared to be a simple gang related robbery is no such thing, and that their mother's murder was anything but a random event. Mama Mercer wasn't in the wrong place at the wrong time, someone had her assassinated.
This film was surprisingly good. There was a good amount of characterization that helped breath life into the movie and the four lead actors had a lot of onscreen chemistry. You could feel the bond that these four abused and neglected people had and they acted like real brothers rather than four people who are after the same results.
It was the smaller scenes that really made the film more than just a mediocre revenge flick. After the funeral when all four return to their mother's home and Bobby goes into the bathroom to cry so his brothers won't see him made the character seem real. The scene at dinner when each of the brothers remember their mother in their own way, recalling her kindness and yet insistence that they obey the rules was very powerful and moving. The movie didn't just tell you that this lady was a great person, it showed you. The fact that they otherwise useless members of society would risk their lives to avenge her seems natural. After all, she was the only person in the world who ever gave a damn about any of them.
Though the movie quickly and very efficiently sets the emotional ground work for the film, it does have its flaws. The way Bobby walks around Detroit waving a gun around looks good on camera, but is a little hard to buy. When he enters a basketball court during the middle of a game and pulls out his gun, identifies himself, and then threatens everyone in the gym, it's difficult to suspend your disbelief. If you can manage to overlook some of these, including the rather contrived ending, the action scenes and emotional background more than make up for it.
I was very pleased with the 1080p/2.35:1 image. This film doesn't have any eye-popping explosions or really cool space battles that jump off the screen so it would never be used to show off a system, but it is a very good transfer never the less. This disc has a lot of fine detail that really brings the film to life. You can see the fine lines of mortar in the brick building in the background, and the whole picture is just crisp and sharp. The black levels were nice as solid and the digital noise that seemed to plague early Blu-ray releases is not present.
One of the most pleasing things about this disc is the fact that the image quality is consistent throughout. Many early Blu-ray releases would have several excellent looking scenes followed by sequences that were plagued by excessive noise or grain and inconsistent black levels weren't uncommon. This disc does not have that problem. The picture looks excellent from start to finish.
I've seen a lot of comments in various mass media outlets that claim there isn't a great difference between DVD and the new HD formats. I would argue that there is a large difference, but it is more subtle than the VHS to DVD gap. This disc is a perfect example. It doesn't have many impressive sequences that show off the extra definition, but the whole movie is much more detailed and there is a lot more depth to the picture. This isn't anything that you'll notice right away, but watch enough HD programming and it's hard to go back to SD. I don't have the regular DVD of this movie, but when compared to other high quality DVDs, the difference is very apparent. (Okay, I know I'm preaching to the converted here, but I'm getting sick of the constant "most people won't see the difference" myth that is being spread around.)
The film comes with a 5.1 English DTS track as well as DD 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish. I screened the film with the DTS track and checked the English DD track also. While they both sounded good, I thought the DTS track had a bit more force in the low end of the sound spectrum. This movie is very front speaker based and I was surprised the rears weren't used to greater effect. They kicked in during the big shootout in the middle of the movie, and quite effectively too, but other than that they were pretty quite. I was disappointed that this is basically a stereo mix, with only a few scenes making full use of the whole soundstage.
Aside from that, the quality was very good. There was excellent dynamic range, very good imaging when the rears were used, and the dialog was easy to hear. Audio defects were nonexistent. This was a nice sounding disc, though the movie would have been helped by a more dynamic sounding disc.
Four Brothers offers a very good selection of bonus items, especially for a Blu-ray release which have been rather anemic in the past. This disc has all the extras that you'd expect for a mainstream DVD release (and these were all included in the SD DVD.) There's a commentary by director John Singleton which is rather dull. He does relate what he was trying to do with most scenes, but it was never that engaging. The nine deleted scenes run about 12 minutes all together and were all cut with good reason. There are also a series of four featurettes which run between 5 and 10 minutes each are entertaining enough though not really meaty. They cover the writing of the script, the casting, the look of the film and how the big shoot-out scene was filmed.
This was a surprisingly enjoyable film. The main actors had a
good amount of on screen chemistry, and this made up for some of the more
unbelievable aspects of the movie. The 1080p transfer is excellent,
with a good amount of detail and a nice smooth but sharp look. While
the soundtrack isn't consistently active, when it does use the full soundstage
it puts it to good use. Recommended.