Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Brother the Devil: Fraternal Ties that Bind

Rashid engages in all sorts of activities at odds with his Islamic faith.  He drinks, deals drugs, and beds girls in his housing estate.  Yet, his younger brother Mo idolizes him for it all.  However, when “Rash” finally gets in touch with his true nature, his sibling turns against him hard in Sally El Hosaini’s My Brother the Devil (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Rash is a small time Hackney gangster with a growing rep.  To Mo, that is very cool.  To his credit though, Rash is dead set against his little brother following in his footsteps.  On this much he agrees with their traditional Egyptian immigrant parents.  When Rash takes over the route of his late running mate, he starts making regular deliveries to Sayyid, a successful hipster photographer. Feeling a connection, Sayyid makes a pass at Rash, who initially reacts rather badly.  However, he soon returns.

Naturally, there is a lot of outside drama going on just as Rash starts wrestling with his sexuality.  His gang is dead-set on retribution and they want Rash to do the dirty work.  Yet, when Mo discovers Rash’s secret, matters really come to a head.

A trenchant social observer, El Hosaini attributes Mo’s homophobic freak-out both to his Muslim upbringing and the macho prejudices of the thug life he aspires to join.  It is chillingly telling when he finds it easier to claim Rash has become a terrorist than admit to his friends his brother might be gay.

El Hosaini coaxes some completely natural feeling performances from her mostly neophyte cast.  James Floyd is particularly dynamic and forceful as Rash.  Yet, one wishes she had been a bit more adventurous in her approach to the material.  One can hear echoes of Boyz n the Hood and subsequent urban dramas throughout the film, most definitely including the omnipresent rap soundtrack.  Granted, the British import is coming from a similar socio-economic place, but there is still a formulaic predictability to her fraternal morality play.

Nonetheless, El Hosaini’s consistent honesty is commendable.  Devil never alibis or walks back the prejudice it depicts, implying these are deeply held sentiments in Rash’s community, rather than the manifestation of inadequate youth programs.

Yes, viewers will probably know where Devil is headed each step of the way.  Yet, the unromanticized portrait of urban violence and intolerance is relatively fresh and forthright.  Bolstered by Floyd’s bold performance, My Brother the Devil is worth considering for those whose tastes run towards gritty social issue dramas.  It opens tomorrow (3/22) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.