AS THE INTERRUPTERS shows, sticks and stones do break bones (very effectively), and words can often lead to death. You won't find a more intimate or more frustrating portrait of urban violence in America than The Interrupters, which follows a year in the lives of a group trying to stop the epidemic cycle of youth violence on Chicago's streets. The filmmakers—Hoop Dreams director Steve James and journalist Alex Kotlowitz—embed themselves with a cadre of reformed gang members and drug lords who now spend their long days and longer nights trying to stop angry teens from shooting each other over offhand insults and $5 bags of weed.

James' camera captures astounding moments—the flare-up of an almost-deadly fistfight, the fiery preaching of a petite Muslim woman fed up with the deaths—letting viewers into a tense world of pointless violence. And maybe the version you'll see will be better than the one we did: The advance screener provided to us felt overly long, clocking in at an engrossing but unrelenting two-and-a-half hours, but shortly before going to press, we received word that James had shaved 20 minutes off the film's runtime for its theatrical release.