It’s Directed by John Singleton
Here’s a fun fact for you. Four Brothers director John Singleton was the first African-American ever nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Boyz in the Hood in 1991. In addition to being a wild indictment on the Academy’s decades of racial oversights, it’s also a hearty endorsement of one of cinema’s most groundbreaking figures.
John Singleton just rules, having also helmed Higher Learning, Baby Boy, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and numerous episodes of television (including the Emmy-nominated fifth episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson). Sadly, Singleton passed away in 2019 but he left behind great work like Four Brothers for future generations to discover.
It’s Got a Great Cast
The star power of Four Brothers‘ cast is probably what encouraged Paramount Pictures to greenlight it in the first place. The titular four brothers consist of two legit movie stars (Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson), one music icon (André Benjamin a.k.a. André 3000 of Outkast), and one young actor who would go on to have a hell of a career in mostly supporting roles (Garrett Hedlund).
All four actors are mostly superb in this film and fall into recognizable character archetypes that makes the plot go down smoother. Wahlberg’s Bobby is the oldest and the leader of the Mercers. Angel (Gibson) is his right hand man and enforcer. Jack (Hedlund) is the youngest and most malleable. The only archetype that doesn’t quite work is Benjamin as family man and construction worker Jeremiah. The musician does his best in the role but it quite simply doesn’t make much sense to cast one of music’s most creative and colorful figures as the most serious character in the film.
Beyond the Mercer brothers themselves though, Four Brothers is filled with other recognizable faces having plenty of fun. Terrence Howard (Iron Man) and Josh Charles (The Good Wife) turn in admirable performances as grizzled Detroit detectives. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange) is at his scenery-chewing best as the villainous gangster Victor Sweet. Even Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) and Taraji P. Henson (Empire) show up for some short, but sweet moments.
It’s a Western in a Snowy City
Four Brothers has often been described as being influenced by blaxploitation movies. While that’s certainly true, the core of its story harkens back to an even older cinematic movement. The film is basically a Western, albeit one set in a perpetually snowing urban environment. The movie is loosely inspired by the 1965 Western The Sons of Katie Elder, starring John Wayne and Dean Martin. In that movie, the four sons of Katie Elder return to their town of Clearwater, Texas to attend their mother’s funeral.