The power of one person to change another’s life is powerfully on display in “The Interrupters,” an insightful and deeply moving account of how ex-cons are taking to the mean, unforgiving streets of Chicago to stop the killing of Windy City children through gun violence. Directed by Steve James of “Hoop Dreams” fame, “The Interrupters” fearlessly goes deep into the world of drug-dealing gangs who shoot first and refuse to answer any questions later.
The power of one person to change another’s life is powerfully on display in “The Interrupters,” an insightful and deeply moving account of how ex-cons are taking to the mean, unforgiving streets of Chicago to stop the killing of Windy City children through gun violence.
Directed by Steve James of “Hoop Dreams” fame, “The Interrupters” fearlessly goes deep into the world of drug-dealing gangs who shoot first and refuse to answer any questions later.
We see lives destroyed, like a 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, his brutal death video recorded and later posted on YouTube, where it became a viral sensation that brought cold-blooded murder into millions of American homes.
It’s disturbing to watch, as it reminds us that in America the life of a poor black man is considered cheap by government institutions that barely lift a finger to stop the endless cycle of violence and poverty that’s passed from generation to generation.
And because their lives are considered cheap, angry, reactionary young men fortified with the belief they have nothing to lose, think nothing of taking a life if a person so much as bumps into them without saying “excuse me.”
It’s into this madness that step the Violence Interrupters, former gangbangers who risk life and limb by literally marching in front of armed combatants to “stop the killing.” James rivetingly puts us up close and personal with three of these brave souls: Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra.
We follow them on their daily routines while also learning about their own inspirational tales about how they turned their backs on violence to become fearless crusaders in their communities.
All three, plus the hundreds of other interrupters who don’t receive screen time, are part of an organization called CeaseFire that was started by an internationally renowned doctor who believes violence is an illness no different than AIDS or HIV that rapidly spreads if left unchecked. So Dr. Gary Slutkin established CeaseFire to go directly to the core of the violence before it has a chance to spread.
His plan has become an international success, expanding far beyond Chicago to places like South Africa. But no matter the language or nation the process is exactly the same: go after at-risk children with people who’ve been there; people who have witnessed the violence and those who have committed it.
It gives the interrupters instant credibility with untrusting teenagers who have no use for authority. We see it work, too, in numerous potentially violent standoffs. But what gets to you is the way the interrupters manage to make a difference in the lives of individuals who have lost both their capacity for compassion and self-worth.
Watching them draw the humanity back out from behind the gangbanger facades is truly inspirational, not to mention tremendously stirring.
You’ll break down and cry right along with each person you see saved. But you also come away with a new belief that not all street thugs should be locked up forever, as evidenced by the way Ameena, Cobe and Eddie have gone from committing robbery and murder to committing their lives to helping others.
Their colorful stories by far provide the most moving moments in the film, which was inspired by a New York Times Magazine piece on CeaseFire written by James’ partner, Alex Kotlowitz.
Hearing them repent and watching them in their new lives as spouses and parents is exhilarating to witness. And then to see their uncanny knack to defuse tense situations and get budding criminals to turn toward the positive, leaves you not only in awe, but breathless.
The thing to take away from “The Interrupters” is its call to action, urging all of us to do our part to end the violence and poverty that feed the problem like a cancer. And if we heed that call, the senseless deaths of good kids like Derrion Albert hopefully will not be in vain.
THE INTERRUPTERS (Unrated). A documentary by Steve James featuring Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra. 3.5 stars out of 4.