'My Brother the Devil'
Director: Sally El Hosaini
Stars: James Floyd, Fady Elsayed
3 (out of 5) Globes
“My Brother the Devil” flirts with cliché but puts just enough of its own spin on its chosen genre to avoid settling completely for received wisdom. It evokes ‘90s films about poor African-Americans like “Boyz N The Hood” and “Menace II Society,” as well as French “banlieue” films like “La Haine,” with which it shares one actor. That latter point makes one wonder why films about immigrants so often proceed directly to gangs and drugs, although “My Brother the Devil” eventually shows the full diversity of London’s Muslim community, from a middle-class French photographer to a strictly observant teenage girl who wears a hijab and avoids alcohol, tobacco and pork. In its second half, “My Brother the Devil” sends one of its characters into a gay relationship, something that would never happen in a film like “Menace II Society.” For this unexpected twist it winds up all the stronger.
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Mo (Fady Elsayed) lives with his older brother Rashid (James Floyd) in a housing project in Hackney, a neighborhood of London. Their parents emigrated from Egypt. (Director Sally El Hosaini is of Welsh and Egyptian descent herself.) Rashid is a member of the gang DMG (Drugs, Money, Gangs.) Mo admires Rashid, but the older brother wants his sibling to go to college and avoid a life of crime. He’s saving his money from drug deals to pay for Mo’s education. Mo gets involved with crime anyway, but he fails the test, getting mugged for his sneakers at knifepoint on a drug delivery.
How many films have we seen about hitmen on one last mission, or criminals of other stripes looking for redemption? Rashid fits a familiar mold. If he breaks free of it, then much of the credit is due to James Floyd’s steely performance. His disenchantment with thug life comes to a head when a fellow gang member is killed. From that moment, his determination to make a better life for himself and Mo is palpable in his eyes. Floyd’s gaze is haunting.
The film’s context may be instantly familiar, but it’s also quite local, grounded in thick British accents, obscure slang and the constant pulse of UK hip-hop. At the same time, the narrative’s twists accurately reflect the way that being gay can put a curve in life plans that have been designed by others. “My Brother the Devil” offers something simultaneously, paradoxically rehashed and fresh.