Something is rotten in the United States of America. Huge swathes of the inner cities have been left to fend for themselves, with a few courageous souls voluntarily putting themselves in the line of fire to fill the holes in the education system, the welfare system and the law enforcement system that have been left by the government’s withdrawal.
Something is rotten in the United States of America.
Huge swathes of the inner cities have been left to fend for themselves, with a
few courageous souls voluntarily putting themselves in the line of fire to fill
the holes in the education system, the welfare system and the law enforcement
system that have been left by the government’s withdrawal.
If that sounds like a decent premise for a dystopian blockbuster, it
makes for an astonishing documentary from Steve
James, who also directed the acclaimed Hoop
Filmed over a year in Chicago, when the daily murder rate was higher
than the military casualty count in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, The
Interrupters shines a light on the work of a few people who are determined to
stem the tide of violence in a society that has adopted ‘death before dishonour’
as its unofficial motto, in a place where people live and die by the trite
slogans of the street – I gotta do what I gotta do, everyone says, ‘cos things
is how they is.
Those familiar with the bleak fourth series of The Wire will find this very familiar – the white Ts, hustles and
dilapidated housing of fictionalized Baltimore are fact in Chicago.
This skilfully assembled, thoroughly engrossing film follows three ‘violence
interrupters’ from the CeaseFire organization – Ameera Matthews, Cabe
Williams and Eddie Boccanegro –
who intervene to defuse potential incidents before they turn violent. It’s
clear from the get-go that they have a towering job on their hands.
There’s a relentless nihilism permeating the neighbourhoods in which
they operate – missing childhoods, substance abuse, fathers either dead or in
jail, and a macabre parade of makeshift shrines marking the spots where
violence has claimed a (usually young, almost always black) life. The horror is
relentless – a 13-year-old shot 22 times; a high-school student beaten to death
in the street; a 32 year-old man with 15 years jail time already behind him.
All the Interrupters know of what they speak – Matthews father was one
of Chicago’s most notorious gangsters, a man jailed for plotting terrorism with
Libyans; Williams is also son of a gangster and a self confessed ex-gangbanger;
Boccanegro is a former car thief, his preppy demeanour masking a man with a
past that includes murder.
In a place where a beef over a $5 bag of weed can turn into a gunplay,
the interrupters only weapon is words, to be spoken where otherwise they would
not be. They tell it like it is, or rather, how it should be, using their life
experiences to warn of how it could be.
Considering its subject, this is a remarkably neutral film. Your anger,
your disbelief at what has been allowed to happen in the world’s richest
country, is assumed, and it would be a hard heart indeed to not feel horrified.
The camera gets right where the action is, documenting unrelenting threats of
violence, the violence itself and its sorry aftermath.
And it’s the latter – in the hospital, at the shrines, in the funeral
home – that is the most uncomfortable. Raw grief is laid bare, as the camera
gets right up to it.
CeaseFire believes violence is a disease, an epidemic. Not everyone is
infected, but everyone is affected. The Interrupters try to stem its spread by
dealing with people who haven’t had a meaningful happy thought in their lives,
because there’s nothing to be happy about.
But hope remains, and the film’s epilogue reclaims one’s faith in man’s
humanity to man, enabling wonder at the work The Interrupters undertake, while
at the same time eschewing any simplified answers and never quite allowing to
disappear a nagging feeling that they just should not have to be doing what
It is an astonishing and essential film.