Review: The Interrupters

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Violence is an infectious disease, epidemiologist Gary Slutkin tells us early in The Interrupters. Using a disease control model that curtail epidemics by disrupting their spread, CeaseFire employs "violence interrupters" (their actual job title) in various Chicago communities. The interrupters themselves are all too familiar with the consequences of violence, and coupling street cred and relationship building they help stop escalating tensions with the goal of reducing violence on all levels.

Director Steve James follows three of the interrupters over the course of a year as they cajole, counsel and educate the communities they serve, offering alternatives that have significantly decreased violence. Unsurprisingly, it's not an easy job, but the interrupters aren't trying to apply a dressing to an open wound any more than they are sanctimonious do-gooders. Each one, whether profiled or not, has learned consequences of a violent lifestyle in the neighborhoods they serve, giving them common ground. The vibrant Ameena fiercely supports those she helps. Cobe takes a more subtle approach, although equally determined. Eddie is quiet, unassuming and still coming to grips with his own past.

Over the course of the year, each interrupter is shown working with people who represent different circumstances that happen all too frequently in a violence-plagued neighborhood; a young woman struggling to overcome her background, a recent parolee seeking amends, a family grieving the tragic loss of a son. All the while shootings continue. And not every intervention ends with a success story.

Steve James (Hoop Dreams, At the Death House Door and Reel Paradise) was inspired to make The Interrupters in part because of an article by Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here, who also served as the documentary's producer. Like his other films, James doesn’t rely on statistics to move the audience, he relies on people. One of the very few things resembling statistics in The Interrupters is the chilling fact that much of the violence attributed to gangs in the inner city -- at least in Chicago -- is actually much more personal, and the groups involved are often friends and family.

The Interrupters isn't an easy movie to watch; the candor for which James thanks the participants is often intense. Along with the honesty is some startling imagery that may be alienating for some audiences, although some of the most unsettling images aren’t acts of violence, but the response to it. That's part of the power of The Interrupters; it isn't pretty, and there is no panacea for learned behavior. But what it does show is how patient perseverance works when people aren’t reduced to statistics. And that's where the power of The Interrupters lies; in people.