British cinema used to be
British cinema used to be about variety; comedy with
Ealing, horror with Hammer and epics with David Lean.
Then came tweeded-up mockney Guy
Ritchie and his sub-Tarantino
gangster geezers. Nowadays it’s
more about people living in the hood, yoofs with no place to go but the local
crack den. Noel Clarke has made his name making these movies, assembling a
group of youngsters with Kidulthood
and having them play out their teenage kicks in the face of gangland
violence. Throw in a grime beat
and some familiar faces and Bob’s your uncle, you got yourself a well topical
movie, blood! Except it got old, fast.
My Brother The Devil deals
with similar themes to Clarke’s oeuvre but approaches it from a more mature
point of view.
Rash (James Floyd) is a local drug dealer, a
made man on the streets of ‘ackney.
He’s a good boy at heart though, he secretly puts money in his mum’s
purse when she’s not looking despite not getting the normal nine to five job
his father wants him to. His
younger brother Mo (Fady Elsayed)
looks up to him, wants to be him, but Rash doesn’t want that for the wet behind
the ears Mo. He wants him to go to
college, get out of the hood. But
when Rash’s best friend is killed in a gang fight, Rash decides he wants out of
the game. Finding a job with local
photographer Sayyid (Said Taghmaoui)
Rash begins to learn things about himself he never knew. While Rash is making a break from the
life, Mo is becoming more embroiled with the local gang and before long the two
brothers paths, beliefs and prejudices will clash, sucking them both back into
From a narrative
and thematic point of view My Brother The Devil is nothing particularly
original. It deals primarily in
disenchanted kids running amok on the streets of London. At first there is rarely any
consequence to their actions until the first real blood is spilt. As battle-lines are drawn and blood
oaths taken My Brother The Devil changes tack. Suddenly all the normal cliches
of da ghetto film take a back seat and we focus more and more on the rapidly
polarising brothers of Rash and Mo.
Mo is coming of age, he doesn’t want to be referred to as “little man”
anymore, he wants to be Mr. Big alongside Rash. But his brother’s eyes have been opened, in ways that films
like this tend to shy away from.
The story does
begin to take on a bit of an EastEnders vibe, as characters repeatedly fight
before a gasping revelation makes them reevaluate their point of view. But feature film debutante Sally El Hosaini shoots the film in
such a way as to draw you into this world. Yes, it’s the normal London high-rise concrete blocks we’ve
seen all too often but it’s bathed in fresh, warm sunshine. Even the scenes at night present a glow
that elevates the aesthetic of the film to something more poignant. The moment Mo tells his friends Rash is
a terrorist because he’s too ashamed to explain what Rash is actually doing
with Sayyid is heartbreaking, the reality of the world these characters
occupy. El Hosaini is not afraid
to tackle the big issues head on and her direction is always absorbing and
The two central
performances further lift My Brother The Devil. As Rash, Floyd balances the hostile gang member perfectly
with the committed and loving brother and son. One minute he can be squaring up
to the local hoods, spitting ‘bloods’ and ‘cuz’ like one of Noel Clarke’s
stereotypes, the next he can be the older sibling, supportive with a hint of
playful violence. As his little
brother Mo, Fady Elsayed is a wide-eyed innocent by comparison. He might look the part, with the required
lines shaved into the eyebrows, but beneath it all is a scared little boy just
longing to find a place in the world.
His wonderful interactions with his parents and, in particular, new girl
next door, Aisha (played with shy charm by Letitia
Wright), are easily the highlights of the film. You just hope these two young actors are not typecast into
playing gangsters and terrorists in their future careers as both demonstrate
they’re capable of so much more.
Bucking the trend
of British Youth movies, My Brother The Devil might not tell the most original
story but it does so with more visual panache and emotional punch than you’re
likely to see in the genre. More
Heaven than Hell.