The Interrupters / Steve James / 2011 /

Active Ingredients: Intimacy; Perceptive exploration of violence
Side Effects: Stories of the Interrupters; Length

Urban violence in Chicago has become an epidemic, Steve James’ The Interrupters argues. Harrowing statistics attest to the lives cut short by gang shootings and rash retaliations, but they can’t relate the lives of those affected and the conditions that contribute to the never-ending cycle of violence as images can. Returning to the poor, inner-city communities familiar from James’ masterful Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters exhibits the same patient compassion of that earlier film, striving for a deeper understanding of social complexities, not just an “issue.”

James and his crew follow 3 violence “Interrupters,” part of the CeaseFire program’s initiative to stop violence on the front lines, before it erupts. The Interrupters are themselves former gang members with a unique understanding of the reactionary psychology that leads to such devastating violence. James captures these moments of mediation, altercations where violence feels like a very real outcome. Through unflinching observation and often-uncomfortable intimacy, James foregrounds not the story of these particular noble crusaders, or the bureaucratic work of CeaseFire, but rather the social and cultural factors that create such combustibility and the systemic nature of the problem. His ability to exemplify these social conditions in concrete instances of real people is especially important in this film, because the personal stores of his subjects are less compelling than those in Hoop Dreams. In Hoop Dreams, the difficulty of escaping one’s social existence emerges from the specific stories of two young basketball players; in The Interrupters, James approaches the issue head-on, and while he does so with great skill, he’s unable to fall back on the particulars of his subjects to carry the film.