‘My Brother the Devil’ Movie Review – Beginner’s Luck?
Much like the characters in My Brother the Devil, the movie hides behind what it truly is. In this instance, it isn’t a bad thing, and the surprise of both the characters and the quality of Sally El Hosaini’s feature debut make this one of the year’s best movies.
Although audiences may have seen it at various film festivals, My Brother the Devil is finally available for the masses to see. Well, kinda. It opened in limited release earlier and is available in L.A. this weekend (and more throughout April). If you get the chance, go see it.
Taking place in London, My Brother the Devil shares two main characters, Rashid (James Floyd) and Mo (Fady Elsayed), who are (you guessed it) brothers. The younger Mo looks up to his brother, and they’re both actively involved in a local gang.
From the beginning, the characters are automatically likable. It’s hard to explain, but from the very opening, it is hard to dislike either one. It sets the story up for an emotional family bond that the story inherently relies upon.
This bond is tested by two major events, or plot points, that catapults the drama. While it starts as a gang tale, the true story – a mixture of coming-of-age, family, socio-cultural, and political themes – is masked for the first half. For being a first time director (and also the writer), El Hosaini deserves a lot of credit for her pacing. There’s a lot of development from the start to the half way point (bookended with the second plot point) that doesn’t feel forced at all.
The story slows down when it needs to and spends a lot of time developing the relationship between the two brothers. One is on the way out, while the other seems to be on the way in. Their relationship is tested in ways only a brotherhood could be.
I’m not alone in my praise for My Brother the Devil either. People following film (specifically, film festivals and awards) know that it gained recognition at the Sundance Film Festival. It was awarded Best Cinematography and nominated for Grand Jury Prize. The bulk of other accolades go to El Hosaini for best debut and Floyd for best newcomer.
The awards are deserved. Floyd does a great job of putting on the tough-guy face when he’s playing gangbanger. However, he’s also able to embody his more sensitive side and does it nonverbally and naturally.
To some, the film may seem a tad long and a little difficult to understand (language-wise). As Egyptian immigrants in East London, their vernacular isn’t easy to understand. It’s in English, but American audiences may struggle a bit more. This doesn’t mean it is impossible, though, and language goes hand-in-hand with culture. Since this is a cultural piece of storytelling, we shouldn’t hold this against the film.
Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil should be on your shortlist of films to see. The “real story” may not be evident up front, but the turns it does take are highly relevant. With an interesting plot, likable characters, and great direction and cinematography, it’s a sure winner. Don’t let some of the details scare you off, let yourself sit back and be surprised.
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