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November 3, 2013

My Brother the Devil

by Franz Patrick


My Brother the Devil (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Egyptian brothers living in East London face a turning point: Rashid (James Floyd) questions whether he wants to remain being a gang member after a close friend is murdered during a tussle and Mo (Fady Elsayed), the younger of the two, looks up to Rashid so much that he aims to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

But “My Brother the Devil,” written and directed by Sally El Hosaini, strives far beyond its living-in-a-tough-neighborhood template. By the end, we are made to realize that it is not so much about the violence that comes with the environment–though it is relevant to the plot–than bringing up questions worth pondering over especially when it comes to the relationship between the brothers and the forces that threaten to take away what they have and what they hope to become.

It shows that being a part of a gang and being a good person need not be mutually exclusive. This makes Rashid worth looking into. There is a noticeable disconnect between how he carries himself while out in the streets and while at home. Though he feels frustrated with his parents at times, he respects them and attempts to give back in small ways. Meanwhile, Mo takes note of the goodness in his older brother. Rashid has done a good job in not bringing home whatever it is that he does outside. But when Mo begins to get curious, the character is now a conduit between worlds that should not overlap.

The film has a way of making small moments feel significant. A standout involves Rashid waiting for a job interview and being approached by an assistant to let him know that he had forgotten to fill out the references section. A well-dressed man across from him smiles in an obnoxious manner. It is a split-second image but right at that moment, we suspect what the man is possibly thinking and what our protagonist is about to do next. Still, the director is smart to diffuse the dramatics to make a scene resonant.

Key figures during the brothers’ self-discovery need to have been fleshed out a bit more. Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui), a photographer who offers Rashid an opportunity to get out of his toxic lifestyle, and Aisha (Letitia Wright), Mo’s new friend who has recently moved into the apartment complex, are interesting but we do not get to know them outside of being elementary supporting players. I believe the aim is that these two characters are or have felt like outsiders and that is why they have found a connection with either Rashid or Mo.

“My Brother the Devil” is an absorbing peek into a world that has been showcased more than several times but is rarely told with perspicuity and insight. It has plenty to say for those willing to lean in, observe closely, and listen.

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