Do the right thing – The Interrupters review

The InterruptersDirected by Steve James. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

The Interrupters plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on July 6, 11, and 13, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

Steve James‘ documentary The Interrupters arrives eighteen years after his Oscar-nominated Hoop Dreams, and it acts as a sad reminder of how far we haven’t come. Widely regarded – certainly by this critic – as the best documentary ever made, Hoop Dreams followed two black teenagers for eight years as they struggled to make it in the Illinois school system and seek out a career in the NBA. Over three hours, it shone a light on America’s inherent class struggle, and the way in which drugs and violence have ravaged the lives of its citizens.

Almost two decades have passed, and things seem even worse. The Interrupters follows a bold initiative known as CeaseFire, in which former gang members try to stop the epidemic of street killings by literally putting their bodies on the line and between the fighting parties. As the seasons pass, the situation seems more and more desperate. If the lack of progress in Chicago is upsetting, the reassurance of James’ unparalleled talent is inspiring. He is not just one of the United States’ most vital and humane filmmakers, but one of the world’s.

The great mystery of James’ uncanny talent is just how he manages to get his camera so close to the subjects. Much like the brave Interrupters themselves, he embeds himself right in the middle of numerous conflicts, oftentimes getting his lens into people’s faces mid-stoush. In fairness, much of the trust has already been earned by the unflinching CeaseFire staff, so that would have no doubt made it easier for James to film angry young thugs. Still, no one could accuse him of being disengaged. The Interrupters is as thrilling and heartbreaking as The Wire, with the added tragedy of knowing real lives are at stake.

We spend the most time with the fearless Ameena Matthews, a maternal figure who literally reduces entire gangs on the brink of rioting to silence with her speeches. There is also Cobe Williams, devoted to helping a young ex-con make amends with those he wronged, and keeping an unhinged and charismatic gent by the name of Flamo from exacting revenge against the cops who arrested his mother. Eddie Bocanegra is charged with bringing the CeaseFire cause to schools, and helping the family of an accidentally-slain child come to terms with their grief.

The objective of the Interrupters is not to end the Chicago drug trade, or disband the gangs, or snitch to the police, but to merely stop the killing. This theory of treating the symptom rather than the disease was formed by an epidemiologist, and whether or not this is the answer to America’s problems is still up for debate. The Interrupters even have their own crises of faith in the approach, sometimes inflaming matters with their confrontations. CeaseFire was founded in 1995, yet still the streets of Chicago are littered with tributes to kids who have been shot or stabbed or beaten to death over a dimebag or a particularly cutting insult.

It is not the job of James’ picture to cure what ails his hometown, or the nation at large. It tells of courageous individuals who lay their life on the line – one even claims a bullet – to save others. And while newsrooms and lesser movies are happy to depict lower socioeconomic areas the world over as irredeemable crime zones, The Interrupters shows off the goodness and kindness and charity that can be found in the grimmest of places, even in the individuals we demonise the most.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Interrupters plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival on July 6, 11, and 13, 2012. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

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