When we go to the cinema we often do so because we seek to escape the erosive reality of the world in which we reside; we go to see stories of good guys taking down the bad guys and right reigning over wrong, even in this more morally ambiguous cinema of the post-9/11 industry. As a documentary “The Interrupters” is not an escape from reality – in fact it rather rides you headlong into one of the darkest corners of it; the ghetto’s of Englewood, Chicago – though that fact does not alone preclude it from also being the kind of story that we so love to see, just a version of it subverted by reality. The Interrupters themselves seem your typical team of do-gooders on the surface, but the truth is that they are actually doing more good than any other action heroes around; they are a dirty dozen that save lives by stoping bullets rather than shooting them, they are the true heroes of America’s really terrifying war, the one that has invaded the streets of every city and ingrained itself so deep in the culture that we can no longer even see it.
Essentially the Interrupters are a cult of councillors for the street, they involve themselves in the conflicts that erupt hourly in these harsh neighborhoods and attempt to act as a conscience for each side; whispering words of logic into ears that are otherwise overflowing with un-objective thoughts. These areas come with a specific style of life attached, one in which it seems that you have to be violent to be at peace, and so it is only instinctual that every irritant becomes the seed for serious conflict and this is why the Interrupters are necessary. The saddest thing about it all is that none of the people involved are unaware of the illogicity of their behavior, they understand the cyclical nature of conflict and the cost that it can have on those innocent and guilty alike but they continue because that’s the way it’s always been and who are they to change anything. That is what makes the attitudes and actions of the Interrupter both rare ,unnatural and also so necessary for someone to have if anything is ever to be done about all of this. Flamo said it best, summing up this paragraph entire: “I respect what you do and all, but… Fuck that shit. Fuck the problem! Fuck the solution!” How the fuck do you fight against that?
It’s this conflict between culture and cognition that makes the characters of The Interrupters so very intriguing. Every good action hero has a dark past, one mistake or many that haunts them to this day, driving their daring actions and these people are no different. Each and every one of them was once an example of the tragic effect that this environment can have on people when left uninterrupted; they were all violent offenders and in some cases murderers and would soon have become a statistic on the other side of that tally had they not found a way to overcome their upbringing. This means that they are able to talk to the people on the street from their level and in their language rather than just lecturing at them like the rest of us are always doing. They are the few that saved themselves and so they are the only ones with a real chance of saving others, even if it is only temporarily. This program then is their attempt at redemption, at repairing what they once helped break and what kind of narrative is more Hollywood than that?
The film itself though does not glorify the actions of these few good men and women, it does not treat them like clear heroes but not does it rear them or the people that they interact with as villains. Directors Steve James is invisible, both literally and figuratively; not only does he not speak or appear once during the picture but his direction and editing are also never biased towards either bolstering or beating any of the characters or concepts up or down. He simply shoots it all and strings it together. Given the intense emotions and strong political elements at play in this area that kind of egoless approach is almost as unique as that of the Interrupters themselves, but I have to say that it did in a way lead to a finished product that felt in part both a little dispassionate and pointless.
I would perhaps have preferred a more narrative driven approach, with events sculpted slightly into more of a storied format as that is my personal preference in pictures, though the authenticity here is certainly still admirable. James’ approach also lends itself to a little too much randomness in its construction; the simple ordering of style-sequences ( those not tied to any actual events) could have been shuffled a little to bolster their effect: The grave montage for example probably shouldn’t have played at the fourty minute mark, that is intro or climax material at the very least.
So although the people that it portrays are amazing and above all around them, the film itself is not. All in all this isn’t as emotionally involving or as devastating as Hoop Dreams but i would say that it is just as important even without those massive emotional highs and lows, because in a way the mediocrity is intentional. In the world of the Interrupters one cannot save the planet like other action heroes can, but for them every little victory is a miracle of equal importance and something to be celebrated just the same; that is the sort of approach that needs to be taken with this film. The forward motion may come in the form of small moments, but it’s there and so are these people, saving little lives for one day at a time without reward and what is more heroic than that?