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Movie Review: Four Corners

Pollsmoor Prison is overpopulated and way beyond capacity, famous for Nelson Mandela's incarceration and infamous for its prolific gangsterism. A gang war has been raging for almost a hundred years between 'The Numbers', several prison gangs divided by their 26, 27 and 28 affiliations, exercising their rule by means of extreme violence. Their bonds extend beyond the prison walls to the Cape Flats, where it's unsafe to walk the streets, depending on which gang's tattoos you bear.

This is the dangerous gangland world, in which Four Corners takes place. At it's core is the story of 13-year-old Ricardo, a chess prodigy, who finds himself caught at a crossroads in an impoverished neighbourhood overrun by the 26s. Driven by the mantra "Chess is life.", young Ricardo navigates his way through some tricky scenarios as he comes face-to-face with high ranking gangsters, who want to recruit him.

Four Corners echoes Brazil's gangster epic, City of God. The slums, crime, subculture and cycle of gang violence resonates as we encounter characters, whose flags denote their lifelong fraternity. Forgiveness director, Ian Gabriel, has created a gritty local crime drama and thriller that immerses us in this world via authentic language, diverse culture and naturalistic performances. Shooting on-location, he offers a slice-of-thug-life against the beautiful backdrop of Cape Town.

While beautifully shot, it's uncompromisingly violent, making a severe contrast between moments of great beauty and sheer terror. The slick visuals transport us into the lives of four main characters, each with their own "corner". A young teenage chess prodigy is gambling with his future, a doctor returning home from the UK has to settle her father's estate, a high ranking 28 general is trying to reintegrate into society and a detective is hunting down a serial killer.

As each of these personal stories that could have been their own films converge, we find a social message at the core of Four Corners. The crime-ridden community's cyclical system of oppression is set against the resolve that there is still hope in the complex, yet inherently good characters. A reformed prisoner standing up against gangsterism, a doctor finding her true calling, a teenager trying to stay clean and a detective seeking real justice - all of these people are working towards self-empowered community upliftment.

Four Corners Movie

"Boys tonight we live and die as men."

Ian Gabriel spent a long time casting his actors and the finished product reflects his efforts to get the right actor for the role. What's also refreshing is his choice to keep the production local. Brendon Daniels (iNumber Number) delivers a fine and layered performance as Farakhan, showing a man trying to hit the 'refresh' button the only way he knows how. Irshaad Ally makes a strong counterpoint to Farakhan as Gasant, the fearless leader of the 26s, bringing some American bravado to the film.

Lindiwe Matshikiza grapples with Leila Domingo, a role that helps establish the outsider's perspective as she comes to terms with unresolved feelings, a sense of duty and fulfilling her father's wishes. She's supported by the seasoned Jerry Mofokeng as Manzi and while you understand the subplot's importance, it seems to be at odds with the rest of the film.

Jezzriel Skei plays Ricardo in an unassuming and naturalistic performance that helps ground Four Corners. There's a quiet dignity and solemnity in his performance and his distinct facial features make him an interesting coming-of-age subject. Aduragman Adams plays a convincing Tito Hanekom, a concerned and dedicated detective, who wrestles with a difficult case.

The sound department deliver a powerful and hard-hitting soundtrack that propels Four Corners. The music from composer, Markus Wormstorm, is perfectly poised for the genre mix and the sound design team add another layer to reinforce the already strong visuals. Pulsating beats and musical roots give Four Corners a South African flavour and add a thick crust to the slice-of-life drama.

While Four Corners looks and sounds the part, it does tend to get bogged down in trying to support a web of subplots. While each character's story certainly warrants focus, the film gets weighed down in its ambitious attempt to cover all its bases, essentially giving an equal weighting to each of it's four lead characters. The sense of authenticity and humour offer some relief, but the film's heavy subject matter does start to take its toll.

While this does make you feel the 114 minute run time, Ian Gabriel's film is still a cut above. The cinematography and soundtrack are world class, making Four Corners not just "good for a South African film", but solid by international standards. The documentary-worthy subject matter and execution is provocative and unveils a festering gangland of reluctant heroes and inevitable villains that would be worth revisiting.

The bottom line: Edgy