*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'The Interrupters' is an excellent documentary about a group called CeaseFire, which primarily employs streetwise, ex-cons as 'Violence Interrupters' on the tough streets of inner city Chicago. The 'Interrupters' are reformed criminals who know the lingo of the street and go around trying to defuse potential confrontations from occurring, cooling down members of their community, who often become enraged due to minor sleights which are misinterpreted as major signs of disrespect.
The group is led by Tio Hardiman, an ex-petty street criminal who later earned a Master's Degree and now heads a "Mission Impossible" team who are 'on call' to nip any potential violent incident in the bud. Remarkably, during a staff meeting shown at the beginning of the documentary, a fight develops right outside where the Interrupters are discussing strategy, and they rush out to quell the violence which involves one youth threatening another with a knife.
'The Interrupters' focuses on the lives of three members: Ameena Matthews, an ex-Gang enforcer, now a spiritual Muslim, who has communication skills as good as any highly-trained social worker; Cobe Williams, who served 12 years for Drug Trafficking and Attempted Murder, now a gentle family man, and Eddie Bocanegra, who was incarcerated 14 years for murder, now a talented artist.
We follow these 'Interrupters' as they work on various 'assignments', troubled individuals (a good number of them young people), who are prone to acting out behavior. Matthews acts as a grief counselor for a family whose son was murdered, a case which was widely publicized on Youtube and received national attention. She speaks at the funeral and we see the devastating effect the murder had on the victim's family members. Matthews also counsels a teenager named Caprysha, who ends up back at a youth facility at film's end. She concedes that not all their interventions will be successful. In the case of Caprysha, she appears to vacillate between good conduct and bad (although I read on google that she eventually earned her high school diploma).
Cobe Williams works with two brothers who can't seem to stop fighting with one another and later gets good results with a neighborhood hothead, 'Flamo', who wants to take revenge on some thugs who beat up one of his relatives. Williams manages to calm him down and in the last segment, we see 'Flamo' has obtained a job as a security guard and is wearing the uniform, ready to head off for work.
Eddie Bocanegra not only teaches art to elementary school students but also works with a young parolee, who was sent away three years for armed robbery. There's an emotional scene where he returns to the scene of his crime, a beauty salon, and apologizes to the victims. One victim accepts his apology but still makes it clear that his actions had a devastating effect on her life. The young man eventually obtains a job as a gardener at a school and is proud that he has put his violent past behind him. Eddie would like to apologize to the family of the victim he murdered, but indicates the family is perhaps not ready to forgive him.
While 'The Interrupters' do valiant work, one wonders how effective they are at what they're doing. One Interrupter concedes that their work is only a 'band aid' and the violence simply continues unabated, all over this country. The Interrupters admit that you can't work with someone who ultimately doesn't want to change.
Steve James, known for the award-winning documentary 'Hoop Dreams', has done an excellent job showcasing the noble aims of this group. Sometimes I felt that 'The Interrupters' could have been a tad bit shorter, especially toward the end. But all in all, it's a fascinating look at how one group attempts to deal with the plague of violence, in their own community.