Review: The Interrupters (2011)

the interrupters

I’ve worked in Englewood, I’d rather not ever work in Englewood again, thank you very much!

Written By: No One
Directed By: Steve James

I had to vent one opinion about The Interrupters as soon as I had finished the film. I ventured to my Twitter account and I posited this, “Controversial maybe, but I feel The Interrupters was a step back for Steve James after No Crossover: The Trial Of Allen Iverson…” Whereas No Crossover: The Trial Of Allen Iverson was lean and got to the point, I felt that The Interrupters beat around the bush in the same way that Hoop Dreams beat around the bush. For as much as I have grown to like Mr. James as a filmmaker I can’t help but feel he needs some help in the editing department. The Interrupters sputters a few different times, and each time it was due to excess being present in the narrative. The Interrupters isn’t bloated, but it’s forward momentum is blocked in a few key moments by the lack of editorial prowess shown by Mr. James, and his cohort Aaron Wickenden.

There’s no denying that the content of The Interrupters is serious stuff. As I jokingly alluded to above, I’ve worked as an EMT in some of the not so great areas of Chicago. I’ve seen the violence that takes place, heard the gunshots, and tended to patients who were gunshot victims. On this front The Interrupters is a home run, excelling in the area of getting across the reality of the violence on Chicago streets. The nitpicky side of me wants to take the film to task for including Berwyn as part of Chicago. But, that’s not the films fault as Chicago for illogical reasons includes the suburb of Berwyn, and other surrounding suburbs, in their violence statistics.

Nitpicking that has no bearing on the quality of the film aside, The Interrupters does do a splendid job of presenting its characters, the problem they face, and the way they go about tackling said problem. Mr. James pulls no punches in what he shows, or the situations he allows his camera to observe. By being right in the thick of the action, so to speak, Mr. James bring a level of immediacy to the violence that allows the viewer to better understand said violence. It’s one thing for the documentary to tell us about the violence happening in Chicago. It’s another matter entirely when the documentary gets dirty and gritty by showing us when the violence is about to explode.

Another impressive attribute in The Interrupters favor is the way that Mr. James handles spatial relations. Being a documentary, there really shouldn’t be much talk of spatial relations. However, I was impressed with the shots that Mr. James chose to include that depended on spatial relations. We visually get to see the distance between a mother and her two sons. When one of the documentaries subjects, Lil’ Mikey, goes back to the people he robbed Mr. James visually captures the distance between them. Then he keeps his camera rolling and captures the closing of that distance. There are a lot of scenes where Mr. James uses his visuals to tell the story of the documentary, that sort of nuance drew me in as a viewer..

The last paragraph does present a conundrum for me. I had issues with the pacing of certain parts of The Interrupters, and the inclusion of some unnecessary scenes. That’s editing, but so is the development of spatial relations within a documentary. With me being both impressed and disappointed by the editing in The Interrupters I need to rectify my earlier statements about Mr. James as an editor. He’s not a bad, or terrible editor, simply an uneven one. And, in the case of Mr. James he manages to capture a rawness that is often missing from a lot of documentaries. His editing work in The Interrupters is a mixed bag, but I was a bit too harsh on the editing at the onset.

Don’t confuse my problems with The Interrupters with me not liking the film. The Interrupters is a great film, it’s far better than Hoop Dreams, but a lesser film than No Crossover: The Trial Of Allen Iverson. It’s another great documentary from Steve James, but it’s another documentary from him that I feel was way oversold by the cinephile community at large. The Interrupters is worth seeing, it is a documentary that should leave a mark on all who are able to see it. At the same time The Interrupters is flawed, and comes up a little short against a lot of masterful recent documentaries.




2 responses to “Review: The Interrupters (2011)

  1. Interesting thoughts, especially in terms of the use of space between the characters. I was intrigued by all three of the main characters in this documentary, which isn’t always the case in a movie like this one. I do feel that it meandered a bit at times, but I was still engaged all the way to the end.

  2. It’s definitely engaging, but I think the meandering nature of the film got to me more than most.

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