The Mercer brothers--hotheaded Bobby (Mark Wahlberg) family man Jeremiah (Andre Benjamin) pretty boy Angel (Tyrese Gibson) and troubled Jack (Garrett Hedlund)--owe their lives to their adoptive mother Evelyn (Fionnula Flanagan). Even though they've all gone their separate--and not necessarily straight and narrow--paths none of them would have made it to adulthood if their beloved mother hadn't been there to guide them. So when she's killed in a seemingly random grocery store holdup the grieving four brothers reunite to find out just exactly what went down. Of course the rest of the plot--something to do with a business deal gone awry crooked cops and one mean mother of a street kingpin--is really superfluous. It's really just about the Mercer brothers kicking some serious ass and taking no prisoners.
The cast holds up. Wahlberg--whose carving a nice little career for himself by starring in action-packed ensemble pieces (The Italian Job Three Kings)--takes immediate charge as the eldest brother who punches first and asks questions later. Gibson (2 Fast 2 Furious) a Singleton staple plays his usual smooth operator who gets more than he deserves just because he looks so good. Hedlund (Friday Night Lights) also does a nice job as the youngest Mercer a kid who was deeply scarred before Evelyn got a hold of him. The standout however is André Benjamin aka André 3000 from the hip-hop group OutKast. The singer-turned-actor gives a layered performance as Jeremiah a man who has tried to stay on the up and up for his family's sake but manages to get involved with the wrong people anyway. What makes Four Brothers rise slightly above the usual fare is the tangible camaraderie between the four actors. They each have individual moments remembering their mother but together they easily convey years of growing up in this loving household razzing each other only like brothers can. So when the crap really hits the fan you're hooked truly caring who lives and who dies.
Four Brothers is definitely a welcome throwback--and director John Singleton looks like he relishes every nostalgic moment. It's loosely based on John Wayne's The Sons of Katie Elder but Singleton also adds in elements from those '70s payback flicks he loves so well á la Death Wish and Shaft (which Singleton remade with Samuel L. Jackson). These movies have nothing to do with an engaging plot; it's just about exacting revenge. Plain and simple. Of course you know deep down it's wrong to root for these so-called vigilantes whose morals are tenuous who should let the cops do their jobs. But who are we kidding? We just want to see them annihilate all the evil wrongdoers without giving them any chance. Singleton understands this. Setting his movie in a frozen Detroit he focuses his attention on what's important. From a thrilling car chase over icy snow-packed streets to a rather lengthy and bloody but seat-gripping shootout Four Brothers doesn't let up. And even though you may walk out with a headache you're glad to know at least why.