The Interrupters (tbc)

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Steve Jones

The ViewWellington Review

Review byMatthew Turner12/08/2011

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 125 mins

Powerful, inspirational and suddenly incredibly topical, this is a superbly made, vitally important documentary that demands to be seen. Unmissable.

What's it all about?

Directed by Steve James (who made Hoop Dreams), The Interrupters was inspired by an article in the New York Times, whose author, Alex Kotlowitz, co-produced the film. It focuses on Chicago's Violence Interrupters, an organisation (known as Ceasefire) of former gang members and ex-criminals who mediate in daily street confrontations, gang disputes and family feuds in order to stop people killing each other.

Over the course of a year (2009 to 2010), the film follows three specific Interrupters: ex-gang member Ameena Matthews, the daughter of notorious gang leader Jeff Fort (something that gains her instant respect on the streets), who mentors troubled teenager Caprysha Anderson as well as diffusing a number of fraught confrontations; ex-con-turned-friendly-family-man Cobe Williams, who gets personally involved in three very different cases; and ex-gang member Eddie Bocanegra, who's still haunted by a murder he committed as a teenager and attempts to atone by doing good deeds and teaching art therapy. The film also follows Ceasefire's director Tio Hardiman and interviews co-founder Dr Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who applies the principles of curing epidemics (e.g. by introducing behavioural changes) to the problems of tackling inner-city violence.

The Good
That James was granted such intimate access to the various confrontation scenes is a testament to the levels of trust and respect commanded by the members of Ceasefire on Chicago's streets. As such, it's genuinely fascinating to watch them at work, often by “immersing themselves in the bullshit” (as Tio freely admits) and not belittling the various, often insanely trivial sources of the arguments themselves (e.g. someone owing someone else five dollars).

The various cases taken on by the Interrupters are equally moving, whether it's Caprysha trying (and failing) to stay out of trouble; the very funny “Flamo” who's talked out of a violent revenge attack by Cobe after he's framed; or 17 year-old ex-con Lil Mikey Davis, who takes the brave decision to personally apologise to the people he robbed in a hair salon and who's recommended by Cobe as a potential new recruit.

The Great
Needless to say, in light of recent events in the UK, The Interrupters suddenly seems vitally important; it should certainly be screened to community workers, police officers, politicians and young people alike as a matter of urgency. Similarly, in its tight focus (cops and politicians are noticably absent) yet city-wide scope, the film often feels like a real-life version of HBO's The Wire.

Worth seeing?
Inspirational and extremely moving, this is a gripping, powerful and important documentary that demands to be seen. Don't miss it.

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Content updated: 19/12/2018 00:14

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