The Interrupters ★★½

The intimacy achieved by Steve James with his subjects is still remarkable, but whereas Hoop Dreams soared because of its focus and the rapport we thus shared with Arthur and William, this deep dive into an attempt by the University of Illinois to circumvent an epidemic of violence in Chicago in 2009-10 can't possibly be as compelling because of its multiple threads, even-handedness and social obligations to tackle an enormous problem on a macro level. Not surprisingly, the best moments are those that zoom squarely in on specific individuals -- organizer and mediator Ameena Matthews above all; fuck James Carville in War Room, this is the most charismatic person I've ever seen in a documentary -- that manage to back up the film's thesis without simplifying the breathing humans involved. The film peaks with the introduction of Flamo, a frustrated eccentric whose first appearance consists of him bursting out his front door and angrily throwing his phone into the snow, claiming that the film's subject organization CeaseFire does good work but can't help him at the moment, and finally agreeing to sit down and talk as long as he gets a meal out of it. In his last appearance, we discover he's now a security guard. I found myself wishing James had made a whole film about Flamo, and not just because he's funny and odd but because he seems like one of the only victims-of-the-system depicted here to whom James gives enough space to be cynical while forging a distinctive identity. More Flamo, please.

Also: the film is already sadly dated, mostly through no fault of its creators. CeaseFire eventually descended into disarray, and of course the relatively relaxed attitude toward police depicted here now seems almost quaint given the actual war that was about to be broadcast via viral videos and news cycles into our lives; it makes you wonder if violence manifested by the inherent injustice of a bad system is really where our eyes and hearts ought to be wandering, when it's really just a symptom of a much bigger nightmare, not that I'm doubting James' compassion. Also: Matthews has been badly sick and forced to take to GoFundMe to help with medical bills, and she and several other female members of the CeaseFire troupe have accused Cobe Williams, another of the film's main subjects, of repeated sexual harrassment. Nine years is a long damn time, and you feel every second that's already passed since all this happened in a way that exposes the limited utility of the minute-by-minute immediacy James employs here, which wasn't a problem in Hoop Dreams. It's important work we're seeing here, but I'm not convinced it's much of a movie.