Four Corners Movie Review
Throughout the first fifteen minutes of Four Corners I could not figure out if the movie was a science fiction film, set in the future or on a distant planet. What was happening on screen did not seem to correspond to anything I had ever seen, heard or experienced. My single undergraduate course on the history of South African theater did not prepare me for the life being described in the film.
Though Four Corners eventually settles into territory I am more familiar, hood-gangster life, child soldiers, and chess, the film is described as a “coming of age story.” Who comes of this age, at what age is anyone prepared to live a life of violence?
Four Corners is a particularly good film because the acting is simply superb. Each and every actor seems to live the role, embodying the character so fully that save for the rather poor narrator touches, it would be impossible to distinguish this film from a documentary with an impossible amount of access.
If the film has a single weakness, it is that narration. For some reason the filmmaker thought it wise to sprinkle sentences about chess over the top of the story. Unfortunately, if you have seen Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai this does not work particularly well because many of the lines seem to be lifted out of Jim Jarmusch’s mouth. If you eliminate this single misstep you have a movie that is rather incredible.
The movie is incredible because of the amount of detail brought to a subject that I imagine most people know nothing about. The opening scenes in prison are so alien, because news of the 100 year war between rival gangs in South Africa has not made it too my nightly news telecast. Quickly researching the subject I found a newspaper article which describes the situation as if it were the exact plot of the movie, a leader of one of the gangs is being released from prison, the gangs fight endlessly over turf because there are no jobs and no room for people to live. If every fiction film attempted to be this accurate there would be little need for documentary. I for one am relieved that this was fiction because it allows me to see the mood of the environment and the emotion of the people involved in a deeper and more meaningful way than the mechanics of a documentary allow.
The most interesting element in the movie is its serial killer interlude. Apparently, but not surprisingly, based on a real episode of a serial killer that was choosing its victims from the Cape Flats, the film stops to consider yet another threat to the lives of what amounts to the lives of South Africa’s child soldier population. Implying that it is the system, and the power structure that are the real killer of these people, Four Corners accuses with the most delicate pushing. It is fascinating to watch as the film indicates South African society for forcing these children-turned-adult-warriors into their life of violence while maintaining the critique as a plot vehicle to further the main story arc. There is much craft to this storytelling.
The Four Corners of Oscar Elitism (Racism? Homophobia?)
South Africa picked Four Corners as its entry into the 2013 Oscar Pool, a very shallow pool indeed, and somehow it was not nominated. Did the Academy not put the film into the DVD player? Did the screener get lost in the mail.
I thought Michael B. Jordan not being nominated as Best Actor for his role in Fruitvale Station was the highest crime committed at the Oscars last year. However, having now seen Four Corners, a new contender has emerged. Hey Oscar – you can’t lie to me, I saw at least Denmark’s submission The Hunt (Jagten) and Italy’s submission and eventual winner The Great Beauty. Four Corners is at the very least in their category and from a personal standpoint, is a much more enjoyable and less pretentious movie.
When you think back to that Oscar’s one very clear picture begins to emerge. Hollywood will only pat themselves on the back when it comes to rewarding films that deal with African or African-American issues. Giving best picture of the year to the Hollywood recreation of slavery 12 Years A Slave, while snubbing Fruitvale Station and Four Corners is indicative of the nature of the world film market and its intrinsic message. Hollywood will only celebrate its own imaginings, regardless of how good Michael B. Jordan and Fruitvale Station were; regardless of how good Four Corners and Jezzriel Skei were; when it comes to telling the story of the other – only that which has been given the studio systems stamp of approval will be brought into the limelight.
Going deep, deep into the past to “celebrate” African heritage, to reconcile white guilt still gives us a 12 Years A Slave movie in which audiences get to make believe like there is no element of pleasure received from watching black people get tortured, whipped, disgraced as an element of their “triumph”, of their overcoming. 12 Years A Slave is simply evidence of a disease, the disease of the scapegoating, and abuse-pleasure fetish cycle of the Hollywood film. Films like Four Corners and Fruitvale Station which take the point of the view of abused and make the abuser the problematic – making systems of abuse the problem in the first place – get no reward.
This is not only an African-African-American issue. Thought of in this light, we might reconsider the celebration of Dallas Buyers Club – Hollywood creating false narratives to preach to us about Aids and its heroes.
Is Four Corners a perfect movie? Certainly not, but it is a very good movie – far and away better than 90% of the films that were nominated for an Oscar last year.