Saturday, 1 February 2014

Review: My Brother the Devil (2012)

Sally El Hosani’s debut feature, My Brother the Devil (2013) is yet another addition to the ever increasing cannon of British urban drama, that draws from the spirit of unruly youngsters and their haphazard use of drugs and weaponry. But this ain’t no Harry Brown (2009) and it ain’t no Kidulthood (2006) either. This visceral perspective shines it’s light on alternative issues and as a result transcends expectation, packing an emotive punch, that’s rarely felt within the genre.

Beginning as a bravado game of gangland politics, Hackney high-rise king, Rash (James Floyd) rules the roost, both on the streets and at home where he acts as an overprotective mentor to his impressionable younger brother, Mo (Fady Elsayed). Mo looks upon his brother as a hero, and respects that his criminality is being used for the greater good, when he finds out that Rash is saving his drug money earnings to finance his further education. The tower-blocks and violent urbanity, however, act only as the scrim for Hosani’s gentle focus. This film is not about kids that go looking for trouble, it’s about kids surviving in a world where trouble is prevalent. Gang culture comes within the film’s territory and is demonstrated elegantly in fight sequences and moments of tense confrontation. Yet, it’s once these issues have been addressed that the film really sinks its teeth into the meat.

Much like Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (2009), Hosani’s screenplay peels back the sticky-lino, and throws her protagonists from the frying pan, straight into the fire. Upon losing his best friend to a deadly street-brawl, Rash seeks comfort in the company of politically opinionated Sayyid (Said Taghamaoui). Mo disapproves of their friendship and the brothers are drawn further apart, with Rash becoming secretive and aloof and Mo picking up in gang-land where his brother left off. As distance furthers between the brothers, their personal journeys conjure up various insecurities, the common thread being cultural ignorance particularly towards beliefs and sexuality.

Beautifully shot, cinematographer David Raedeker shows it’s not all doom and gloom as he captures the glaring heat of the British summertime and shows the bad-boy cast under glorious light. He also does an expert job of confining the heat between four walls where, on many an occasion, tension meets boiling point. My Brother the Devil is Beautiful Thing (1995) (minus the humor) meets La Haine (1995), the latter from which it borrows a cast member in Taghamaoui and an impactive and stylish gangster-through-the-looking-glass shot.

This is a remarkable debut from a brave and bold director who is seemingly ready-made to rival the likes of Arnold and Lynne Ramsay, with both of whom she shares a similar ethereal eye. Packed with raw and earthy performances, all authentically street-tough and fierce. From these emerge two stand out offerings from the leads. Fady Elsayed plays Mo with convincing vulnerability and the relationship with his sibling is lovingly heartfelt. However, the real star of this show is the charismatic James Floyd, who as Rash successfully avoids camp stereotypes, going from gangster to gay via downright dude in one seamless and beguiling performance. My Brother The Devil should not be dismissed as just another Urban gangster flick, as it is so much more than that. Director Sally El Hosani is clearly a force to be reckoned with and ironically, has proved herself here as one of the only directors of the genre with real balls.

My Brother the Devil is available now on iTunes and Video on Demand

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