25 January 2012 | bob the moo
An engaging and moving film even if it overplays sentiment at times and lacks a little bit of edge
This film takes a year-long look at the work of a group of volunteers trying to reduce murders and violence in inner-city areas of Chicago. They do this by intervening wherever possible, trying to mediate on the streets between those reading to kill over as little as $5 or a perceived slight, cool the anger before it spills over into bloodshed. The majority of the volunteers have a background in the gangs themselves, have served jail time but were able to get out while they still have their lives. The film follows three of the volunteers during a year where the profile of the Chicago murder rate is raised to the national level.
From the director of Hoop Dreams, this film gets right down onto the streets of Chicago and, while the volunteers are dealing with people ready to kill, the camera is right there too – getting good access and surprisingly natural footage from everyone involved. For the most part it is the capturing of this world that makes the film engaging because while many people (particularly on the internet!) would like to pretend they live in tough situations and are ready to turn to violence over nothing, the majority in the western world are not and certainly for me, I appreciated an insight into the world of those who are ready to pick up a knife and stab someone because of a slight on their family. The camera captures a real natural air when situations are at their most flammable and also in the one-on-one chats, but it doesn't quite manage it when there is a group. Sometimes when break-throughs are being made with groups, it does feel a little uncomfortable and I got the sense that the camera was becoming a little bit of an intrusion.
Likewise, although it isn't overdone, the film also uses sentimental music a bit too often over the top of insights or breakthroughs – and it did annoy me a little bit because none of it actually needed this music. None of these things are bad though, just a little negative in terms of impact. This is covered by how good the chosen subjects are – in particular Ameena and Cobe. To my external ears they occasionally sound uncomfortable or odd or even a bit too much like they are saying platitudes and hyperbole, but yet they work and generally their words and attitudes make an impact – even if they don't always make a lasting impact on a person's life (although the goal is always to get through the immediate threat of violence). James makes good use of them and in Ameena he finds someone likable, charming, intelligent and empathetic – she doesn't just "say" what she is doing and feeling, she lives it and it comes out in every word; wisely she is the heart of the film.
Overall The Interrupters is not a perfect film because it does occasionally overdo the sentimentality and gives the subject a sense of worthiness that they may deserve but that the film doesn't benefit from. It also doesn't have much of a sharp investigatory edge, a little of which it could have done with a little bit of, but otherwise the film is engaging and moving thanks to the ground-level access and the force of the personality and bravery of the volunteers focused on.