Review | "The Interrupters"
For far too many children in Chicago's south side, this is a common occurrence as gang violence has reached near epidemic performances. Chicago's problem with violent crime gained national attention in 2009 when 16 year old Derrion Albert was brutally beaten in the streets during a brawl that was recorded and posted on YouTube. The video caused mass outrage from citizens, and lots of pontification from politician about saving America's youth and cleaning up our streets. But while the politicians wagged their fingers and preened in front of the camera, one group had the courage to stand up and do something, and that group is the subject of The Interrupters.
|Violence interrupter Ameena Matthews surrounded by crowd in Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz’s THE INTERRUPTERS. Courtesy of Cinema Guild.
The film focuses on three such interrupters - there's the fiery and indomitable former gang enforcer Ameena Matthews, the daughter of Jeff Fort, one of the most notorious gang leaders in Chicago's history. During the course of the film, Ameena mentors a troubled 18 year old girl whose struggles to stay out of trouble make up some of the film's most dramatic moments. There's Eddie Bocanegra, whose life behind bars for a murder he committed as a teenager has given him a new outlook on life. And then there's Cobe Williams, whose father was murdered when he was just a boy, leading him to a life of crime he put aside for his family, and now devotes himself to helping others.
|Violence interrupter Cobe Williams (right) and Lil Mikey (left) in Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz’s THE INTERRUPTERS. Courtesy of Cinema Guild.
It's a compelling and ultimately redemptive documentary. James takes us into a world few outsiders ever get to see. These streets feel almost alien, like a war zone in a third world country. But this is no war zone - this is America, and the interrupters are a beacon of light in the darkness, a true voice of change and reason. The film deftly avoids manipulation and instead provides a clear eyed portrait of people whose lives have been forever changed by violence, trying to change the lives of others for the better. This is essential, issue-based documentary filmmaking without the usual ham-fisted histrionics. This is real, this is raw, this is compelling and ultimately deeply moving stuff. So many films try to be inspirational; The Interrupters actually is.
GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)
THE INTERRUPTERS | Directed by Steve James | Not rated | Now playing in NYC.