The Interrupters takes on the nature of violence by following a group of former inner city gang members on what seems like a doomed crusade to stop the fighting in Chicago. An intimate and revealing portrait of people who are reformed but whose need to impart the type of wisdom only they can know has become the beacon of their life’s work. Every interrupter has their own style, some being aggressive while others are nurturing, each believing that violence is a learned behavior that can be overcome. The Interrupters puts “Where violence comes from?” to the test. Do these kids have to live like they do because it’s in their primal nature to survive? Or do these children do what they have been taught to do from a very early age? Director Steve James, whose unmatched Hoop Dreams remains a mesmerizing landmark in non-fiction filmmaking, ventures right to the heart of the problem, often training his camera on the center of battles as they appear on the verge of eruption. A mixture of biting verite footage spawns, almost growing out of the soul of the streets. Like the interrupters themselves, the people in this world have a respect for the camera, never showing an ounce of aggression to it. This quality feels striking as it forces you to wonder if these people actually want to be seen, if they want these stories heard. The forgotten ones of America who are left for dead by an increasingly blasé mentality that summons “Let the animals get themselves.”
James has multiple opportunities to cloak his film in ideals or sentimentality but he smartly resists the urge. Like the characters in Hoop Dreams, no amount of justification can be a good enough excuse for giving up on your life or taking the life of another. Mirroring the knowing tough love of interrupter, Ameena, James’ tone takes on an almost patriarchal style. His goals are to expose a world often hidden behind a veil of sensationalism or triumph stories that represent virtue none of the reality. Some may find the approach a bit cold, seeing as our expectations will force us to yearn for something more forceful. The distance The Interrupters provides is uniquely real and it’s on the shoulders of this naturalism that the film’s success comes. As Ameena says at the funeral of a young gang-banger, “This is real.” We may want to see reality as filtered through a sugar-coated lens but that would simply do a disservice to the subjects. In all likelihood, the interrupters will make only a small dent in stopping gang violence (though statistics show murders are down 47%) but the movie is really about the triumph of the human spirit and most importantly about hope. What gets these former gang members through the day is the devotion to hoping they can make a difference in other people’s lives. To do this, they need to instill the same kind of hope in those fighting the fight currently.