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My Brother the Devil

2012 | 111 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

My Brother the Devil


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Theatrical release date

 12 April, 2013
 09 November, 2012

Country of origin

 United Kingdom



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My Brother the Devil Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 26, 2013

"My Brother the Devil" has powerful individual moments, truly honest emotional searching that gives the material depth the movie doesn't otherwise possess. Though it comes across as yet another inspection of misspent youth in a rap-saturated council estate setting, writer/director Sally El Hosaini scratches a little deeper to explore the bonds between siblings, where influence and approval reign supreme. Being her first film, "My Brother the Devil" is kneecapped by stiff scenes and overcooked performances, but as a whole, the picture introduces the world to a promising storytelling talent with more on her mind than sneers and straightforward criminal interests.

Living in a corner of London, Rashid (James Floyd) is struggling to make money, turning to drug dealing and gang activity to make ends meet, while trying to steer younger brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) out of making the same choices, challenging him to score big in school. When hoodlum activity results in the murder of Rashid's best friend, the loss leaves him heavy with guilt and anger, finally willing to step outside the realm of easy money to find a job and built an honest life for himself. Assisting photographer Sayyid (Said Taghmaoui), Rashid finds stability, only to discover his employer's sexual attraction, which results in a secretive relationship that Mo spies from afar. Disturbed by his Rashid's covert life, Mo quickly unravels, mimicking his brother's criminal antics as a way of building his self-esteem, trying to wow crush Aisha (Letitia Wright) as he succumbs to the temptations of the poisonous community.

"My Brother the Devil" appears to be headed in an obvious direction during its first act, watching the eldest son of haggard Egyptian immigrants balance his Islamic interests with his immoral Euro lifestyle, finding that tightening tension pointing the way to fanaticism, with Mo an obvious target of influence. Mercifully, El Hosaini doesn't pursue that route of storytelling, instead making the movie about personal responsibility and acceptance, using the toxic atmosphere of the council estates to apply pressure on two young men who've been forced into roles that are destroying the promise of their lives. Interestingly, the screenplay gradually reveals itself to be a tale of sexual identity, observing Rashid process his homosexuality after losing his most intimate friend, afraid to bare his heart to Sayyid out of fear of community reprisal and the sensitivity of his domestic situation, living with his mother and father, while sharing a room with the habitually curious Mo.

Inner turmoil fuels much of "My Brother the Devil," watching the two lead characters swallow their pain in the name of secrecy, while Mo dives into the excitement of drug dealing, aping his sibling's life now that Rashid has found another path. The thematic grip of personal inventory registers loudly in El Hosaini's work, and she's skilled at establishing motivations for the duo, with Rashid witnessing the chilling murder of his friend at the hand of a rival gang member -- a terrifying moment of loss that's expertly staged, capturing the shock and extremity of cartoon bravado making that awful leap to reality. It's a burning sense of conscience that keeps "My Brother the Devil" engaging, allowing the characters to expose honest reactions to scripted events, though the helmer does permit a few stagy acts of emotional explosion to dam up the fluidity of feeling.

Also halting the viewing experience is the compulsive use of slang for dialogue, making scenes nearly incomprehensible as El Hosaini strives for cultural authenticity. Perhaps it's just me, but "My Brother the Devil" is difficult to understand, getting lost in a street dialect that should be presented with subtitles for maximum absorption.

While a bit overheated at times, the lead performances are secure and expressive with stages of maturation, making the bad decisions presented all the more troubling when processed through the actors. The feature needs this tight-lipped vulnerability to maintain the potency of drama, as El Hosaini drags matters out a little longer than necessary, reaching for cliche to locate a satisfying ending. "My Brother the Devil" ultimately feels a little flat, but there's promise that the director will carry on to stronger work, with several scenes here delivering exceptional grace and texture that all but guarantees a bright cinematic future.

Starring: James Floyd, Sad Taghmaoui, Fady Elsayed, Elarica Gallacher
Director: Sally El Hosaini

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