My Brother The Devil

My Brother The Devil

****

Reviewed by: Sophie Monks Kaufman

Sally El Hosaini’s debut feature opens with Rashid (James Floyd) circling his younger brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) on a bike, asking with aggressive concern how things are going at school. Heckling melts into pure pride once good marks have been revealed, Rashid’s emotional volatility a symptom of being more immersed in Mo than in his own self. This complex and endearing fraternal relationship, rather than any of the social issues addressed peripherally, is what blazes a path through My Brother The Devil.

This isn’t to say that that social context is unimportant – in fact it all plays into the depiction of the central relationship. Being boxed up not just in the same room, but in the same bunk-bed of their parents’ council flat is a perfect symbol for their closeness. When Rashid whispers dreams to his girlfriend, Mo hears every word, feigning sleep to give his brother the illusion of privacy. Theirs is a relationship potted and pruned in exposure and considering the circumstances they – at least initially – do a good job of keeping it healthy.

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No sooner has this been conveyed in a few deft scenes than sources of peril begin to present. These are the gang-dominated backstreets of Hackney where kids have knives and cash flow comes through drug dealing. If there are any critiques to level at this largely fascinating and involving drama, it’s the sweeping brush strokes that pass for invoking this side of society. Aside from his BFFs and a kindly drug mama, the gang Rashid rolls with is a Greek chorus of one-dimensional bad ‘uns. One even has ‘DMG’ (drugs, money, guns, if you were wondering) tattooed on his neck. It’s a little cartoon-y.

Yet it’s easy to forgive all this once the action starts twisting and turning. Rash’s initial MO to keep his younger brother out of the drugs biz becomes layered with a genuinely surprising development that threatens their relationship.

Lingering glimpses of the London visible from Hackney rooftops cut with claustrophobic shots of a room that seems to shrink as the characters develop helped My Brother The Devil win Best Cinematography at Sundance. El Hosaini is wise to inject visual majesty into her otherwise gritty tale. In the pauses they present, the audience meditates on the delicate tightrope on which safety is balanced so, when we return to the action, it feels even tenser.

For a variety of reasons, Rashid is the one facing the most peril and James Floyd’s performance, swinging between elegant composure and hysterical frustration, is utterly winning. His chemistry with Fady Elsayed – whose Mo is hanging onto the least residue of innocence – is profoundly realistic. Despite race, poverty, gangs and identity swirling round them, the two brothers eclipse everything with their raw love, making you pray that each survives to be the stake in life that the other so badly needs.

Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2012
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A pair of British Arab brothers trying to get by in gangland London learn the extraordinary courage it takes to be yourself.
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