MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
The UK release of The Interrupters seems particularly apt at this time of social unrest and disobedience. This new documentary from Director Steve James and author Alex Kotlowitz enters the world of Chicago communities trying to fight the city’s culture of urban violence. It follows a project called CeaseFire, a group of community workers each with experience of a serious criminal past, trying to act as street diplomats, to interrupt conflict and hopefully prevent the violence that is so endemic in their communities.
The Interrupters is an extraordinarily well made and edited film that always feels honest and true to its subjects. The film’s been necessarily cut by around half an hour from its original Sundance screening and whilst it remains quite long at over two hours, it remains unrelentingly compelling. Rather than taking an academic analysis of urban America’s violent crime problem, it instead lets the people of these communities tell their story, which allows the audience to draw their own conclusions behind the underlying causes of crime and deprivation. The camera never feels intrusive and there’s a real honesty to all accounts.
Featuring gripping central characters, The Interrupters brings to life people from communities easily ignored and stereotyped. Stories such as Ameena Matthews, daughter of notorious Chicagoan crime lord Jeff Fort, who put her own criminal past behind her to become an interrupter. Ameena mentors troubled and parentless teenager Caprysha and their relationship is deeply touching. The film particularly follows three interrupters who use their own hands-on techniques to bring something different to their jobs but each has the power of experience to promote crime prevention. One thing that would have been interesting to elaborate was just how much training they receive and how much of their job relies on instinct and experience. Amongst its other subject, the film follows 17 year old ‘Lil Mikey’, a boy just out of prison having served two years for armed robbery who chooses to find his victims and apologize, producing a powerful, emotive scene which really shows the best of human nature from both the criminal and victim.
Whether CeaseFire is a band-aid or a solution is not a question easily answered even by the director in the Q&A after the screening. The Interrupters may not provide the focused nor conclusive account of America’s urban problems, but much like the HBO television drama The Wire, it presents a snapshot of reality and allows its audience to try to make sense of violence and relate it to a wider world of brutality, whether on the streets of Chicago or as we are currently seeing, England.
The Interrupters is out on 12th August in the UK and out now in the US (limited release). Running time: 125 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).
Review by David Rank