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The Interrupters

Chronicling a year spent with Chicago's antiviolence crusaders CeaseFire, Steve James's documentary on the organization's efforts doubles as an immersive portrait of inner-city blues; its scenes of collateral damage from street warfare could've come from almost any low-income urban neighborhood. The activists we meet here are region-specific, however, all products of Chi-town's gangs who have turned a corner in their own lives. No sooner are we introduced to several CeaseFire peacekeepers---notably Ameena Matthews, a pedigreed former 'banger with a fire-and-brimstone way of defusing situations---than we witness a horrifying tussle involving butcher knives and bricks. It's barely stopped in time, and the film establishes its modus immediately: These folks are trying to curb their community's implosion; this is what they're up against.

James is no stranger to constructing layered looks at class struggles---he codirected Hoop Dreams---and though The Interrupters tackles its subject in a sprawling, occasionally spread-thin manner, his ability to weave smaller stories into a powerful bigger picture hasn't waned. Matthews's at-risk ward continually relapses into bad behavior; a volatile man out for revenge is later seen at peace, thanks to an interrupter's efforts. James isn't trying to deliver easy answers or happy endings. Rather, he's paying tribute to the necessity of stamina in social activism and how such victories must be measured in individuals and inches---two goals that this extraordinary look at ordinary people accomplishes without pause.

Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear

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Release details

Release date: Friday July 29 2011
Duration: 125 mins

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