Engraved beneath their tattoo-covered skin, a yearning desire to be part of a family is the motivation of most individuals who identity themselves as part of a gang. Of
course there are the financial benefits that come with that life, but the primal need to belong is probably the more compelling reeason to stay loyal. Gangs thrive on the impoverished and undereducated sectors of the population; they demand obedience and, to some extent, they provide security for its
members. Although an innumerable amount of films have been made about the subject, Ian Gabriel‘s gritty crime drama Four Corners uncovers the unknown South African version of these sub-cultures with uncanny poignancy and gripping intensity.
Adrift in a world governed by two brutally violent gangs, 13 year old Ricardo (Jezzriel Skei) is ambivalent about following the same road as most kids his age who live in the Four
Corners neighborhood, part of the projects-like community known as Cape Flats. The criminal organizations that fight over the area’s control are the
26s and the 28s who are heavily influenced by American gang culture and even sport the U.S. flag and Statue of Liberty as part of their inked trait marks.
Ricardo’s saving grace is his exceptional ability to play chess and his friendship with detective Tito Hanekom
). However, strategizing on the board proves very different from winning the life or death
battles he must endure in order to become either a worthy apprentice in the illicit gang hierarchy, or to escape his hopeless hometown. One of the expatriates is Dr.
Leila Domingo (Lindiwe Matshikiza) who has come from London to bury her father, But returning demands more of her when a childhood friend shows her the cruel truth about
this town she had managed to escape. That intriguing character is Farakhan (Brendon Daniels), a high-up “general” in the 28s strata who wants to leave his gruesome
past, find his long lost son and create a peaceful haven for their lives.
More powerful than any religious affiliation, the allegiance to their
respective “Numbers” goes beyond family or any moral reservations. If
ordered to kill
a rival soldier by a higher ranking official, that command becomes a
righteous act to honor and perpetuate their kind. The psychology behind
devotion is mindboggling to outsiders, but sufficiently reasonable for those
growing up and making a living because of this unconditional alliance. Within this kingdom
of ruthless men full of bravado there is a mysterious plot involving
the murders of several of these soon-to-be young killers who have
by a psychotic self-proclaimed savior who wants to eradicate them
before they join the ranks of either gang.
Reminiscent of films like the Brazilian child-gang staple City of God, director Ian Gabriel manages to embue the genre with genuine freshness while maintaining thematic elements unique to his national sensitivities.
His film is one about choices and the ties that must be broken in order to rise above the crowd. Ricardo has a chance to be something greater than manage to become just another statistic. He could easily be just one more victim of the ravaging madness of this lawless place in which the only rules are those dictated by the ones who
survive the bloodshed.
Gabriel manages to elicit extraordinary performances from his cast. Especially noteworthy is that of young Jezzriel Skei whose
coming-of-age becomes the driving force of the film. Just like in the ancient board game which is in fact a civilized depiction of war
tactics, every character plays a role and every action has an irreversible outcome. Without knowing it, Ricardo is orchestrating a real-life chess game of
deadly proportions. Inevitably comparisons are sure to be drawn between Gabriel’s feature and other similarly themed movies. Nonetheless, his work
transcends the preset limitations and is utterly authentic. Four Corners is an open invitation to enter an unknown world of violence and survival. It is also a marvelously directed sophomore effort.