My Brother the Devil (2012), the debut feature from writer-director Sally El Hosaini, has won a host of awards since its release last year – and with good reason. Newcomer El Hosaini has managed to breathe new life into an increasingly clichéd genre with substantial skill and sensitive insight. Focusing upon a Muslim Egyptian family who live on a run-down estate in Hackney, the film follows the divergent journeys of Mo (newcomer Fady Elsayed) and his charismatic older brother Rashid (James Floyd). Mo idolises his elder sibling – a dealer who is part of the local ‘drugs, money and guns’ gang – and is eager to follow in his footsteps.
However, when their friend Izzi becomes a victim of gangland violence, the two brothers react differently; a clearly shaken Rashid quickly changes his outlook on life, whilst a vengeful Mo chooses a different path. Beautifully shot throughout by cinematographer David Raedeker, there is already a lot going on in My Brother the Devil without the introduction of a subplot featuring Rashid and his photographer friend Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui), which adds the controversial issue of homosexuality to the mix. However, rather than hampering proceedings, the risk pays off – thanks in no small part to El Hosaini’s assured narrative.
By posing such bold questions to her characters, El Hosaini gives her film another insightful dimension, and elevates My Brother the Devil beyond other British gang culture films in the process. The other facet working in Hosaini’s favour is the relationship between the two brothers. Rashid is very protective of Mo from the outset, encouraging his dreams of college and doing his utmost to stop him from joining gang life. Contrastingly, Mo looks up to Rashid, so much so that he copies his brother by giving money to his parents whenever possible. It’s a superbly written depiction of an innate, brotherly bond, aided by convincing performances from both Floyd and Elsayed.
Whether they’re arguing or bantering, the relationship between the the two central siblings feels natural and genuine, which makes particular moments that much more profound. Praise should also be afforded to the capable supporting cast, the stand-out of which is the young Letitia Wright as the soft-hearted Aisha. With breakout performances both behind and infront of the camera, My Brother the Devil is an engaging, often thought-provoking watch that gives us a few names to keep a close eye on in the future.
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