Cultures all over the world embrace the proverb that “revenge is a dish best served cold,” but director John Singleton warms it up in his upcoming film, “Four Brothers.” Mark Wahlberg, Andre 3000, Tyrese Gibson and Garrett Hedlund play adopted brothers seeking to avenge the murder of their mother, and they stop at nothing to track down those responsible and make them pay — even if it means shedding a little (and then a lot) of blood in the process.
The film’s theme is not exactly new, of course. Vengeance is a classic storytelling device that long predates the very movies (Italian spaghetti Westerns, Japanese samurai movies, Hong Kong martial arts flicks) that rely on its power. Vengeance films appeal to our innate — some would argue our most base — sense of justice: once we’ve been wronged, we have to make it right. “Four Brothers” itself, meanwhile, is loosely based on a 1965 John Wayne Western, “The Sons of Katie Elder,” albeit with a storyline transferred from the Texas plains to the mean streets of present-day Detroit.
“I’ve grown up on Westerns, so I got the feel for what John was trying to do,” Wahlberg said. “This is kind of [reverting] back to the great Westerns of the day, the great antihero, character-driven pieces of the ’70s — ‘Taxi Driver,’ ‘Death Wish,’ even ‘Dog Day Afternoon.’ These guys had a purpose, and you had the audience rooting for you.”
“These guys [Wahlberg, et al.] are almost like the characters in the Westerns,” Singleton said. “Good guys who see a wrong, out to do justice by getting the revenge on the bad guys. People cheer on these guys because you don’t see that in this generation of movies. We’re over-thinking things. But in the old Westerns, and the Charles Bronson movies of the 1970s, you had that. There was a clearly cut thing — that this was a wrong thing that the bad guys did, and we cheer on the good guys, even if the good guys have to do not-so-right things.”
|Exclusive Photos: Check out exclusive photos from “Four Brothers”|
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And that, of course, is where the line gets blurred. In a not-very-black-and-white world of good guys vs. bad guys, what the good guys have to do often requires taking the law in their own hands. In Singleton’s film, the brothers decide that the police aren’t doing a satisfactory job of investigating their mother’s murder after she’s gunned down in what appears to be a robbery; they decide to track down a witness by waving a gun around at a high school basketball game and “interrogating” him themselves. (They suspect that he lied when the police initially questioned him, and decide to employ some very harsh techniques to make him come clean). If these guys weren’t the heroes of the story, the audience would likely think them little more than thugs; their “questioning” of the witness amounts to raw torture.
The brothers’ vengeance only escalates from there, as they learn just how alone in seeking justice they truly are.
|Watch exclusive clips from “Four Brothers” and hear what Andre Benjamin and director John Singleton have to say about vengeance, justice and filmmaking … on Overdrive.|
“It’s about right and wrong, and some of the extreme measures we take,” Wahlberg said. “Everyone’s going to ask themselves, ‘What would I do in this situation?’ ”
“I don’t think [my character] Jeremiah is a killer,” Andre 3000 said. “But when he thinks about his wife and kids, someone cutting off his life and the situation [that would leave them] in — it makes you do things that are unthinkable. I think people can relate to that.”
“It’s because of our mother,” Gibson said. “She’s all we had. She’s all the hope and inspiration we had, to want to live our lives and be adults. To take that away from us, it’s a definite problem.”
Advice to “just let it go” doesn’t work with these men, despite their revered mother’s preaching about turning the other cheek. At one point, Andre 3000’s Jeremiah reminds Wahlberg’s Bobby that “Mom would have been the first to forgive.”
Bobby’s response? “We can’t all be saints.”
“I’m raised Catholic, so it’s all about forgiveness. If you can’t forgive, then you can’t be forgiven,” Wahlberg said. “But taking a situation like this? If this happened to someone I cared about, I don’t think I would be so quick to turn the other cheek, especially with something as horrific as this. It’s not something I ever want to be faced with. I don’t think I would respond in a rational way. It’s not that easy. I think after sitting in my jail cell for about two or three years, I could probably come to grips with the idea of forgiving somebody.”
“When you’re in jail for it, you’re like, ‘I don’t care. If the person who did this to my mom or my loved ones is off the streets and gone, I’ll do this time,’ ” Gibson said. “Forgive and forget afterwards.”
On the other hand, one of the “Four Brothers” cast members, Sofia Vergara, who plays Gibson’s love interest, knows more about the burning desire for vengeance than she would like: Her brother Rafael was shot and killed in Colombia in 1998. Vergara knows, from firsthand experience, that revenge fantasies often surface precisely when we feel most powerless to respond to having been wronged. But, she says, the search for vengeance can ultimately be an empty, pointless exercise.
“As a human being, it’s your nature to protect and defend your loved ones,” she said. “I think we’re doing the wrong things for the right reason in the movie, but sometimes, you should just let go and keep going with your life. It’s hard, when something happens, to just sit back. But there was nothing I could do. If I knew who did it … I would do the same thing; not shoot them, but try to get justice. 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.”
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