Ameena Matthews (background), violence interrupter
Courtesy of Kartemquin Films
Chicago landed on the nation's radar a couple of years ago when a high school honor student's slaying by a mob of fellow teenagers was captured on a cell phone camera. Sadly, that killing was not all that unusual for the Windy City where the homicide rate in the 'hood is higher than that among American soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The only thing that made this particular murder newsworthy was fact that it had been recorded which meant that there was footage to play for ratings on the 11 O'clock News. The sad truth is that similar scenarios are being repeated with painful regularity in our impoverished inner cities all across the country.
Fortunately, at least in Chicago, Violence Interrupters has been formed with the aim of reversing the lethal trend. The organization is spearheaded by reformed gangbangers willing to put their butts on the line by calling for cooler heads to prevail when tempers start to flare on the mean streets of the ghetto.
Directed by Oscar-nominee Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and produced by best-selling author Alex Kotlowitz (There Are No Children Here), The Interrupters is a riveting documentary which chronicles the efforts of several intrepid community organizers over the course of a year, including Ameena Mathews, Tio Hardiman and Cobe Williams. With the aim of bringing an end to black-on-black crime, the three devote their time to everything from disarming the revenge-minded to mentoring lost souls to consoling grieving parents to helping ex-cons readjust to civilian life.
The movie also allows some well-known Chicago luminaries to weigh-in on the burgeoning crisis, such as Jesse Jackson ("This is a state of emergency; this is what a war zone looks like.") and President Obama's Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ("Violence is an American problem."). But the experts' pontificating pales in comparison to the unenviable task of being the one actually trying to talk sense to an enraged man-child with vengeance in his heart and a loaded gun at his disposal.
A crash course on how to stage an intervention, at your own risk, on behalf of a gangsta' urgently in need of a little tough love.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 125 minutes
Studio: Kartemquin Films
Distributor: Cinema Guild
See a trailer for The Interrupters