Mo and Rashid are brothers living on a Hackney council estate. Mo looks up to Rashid like a hero, making his way in the drug selling world as part of a gang and being able to pay the family’s bills and buy flashier things. When his friend and fellow gang member Izzy dies in a clash with a fellow gang trying to take their turf, after the intention of escaping the life of the estate, Rashid no longer sees himself as invincible and decides to change his life, managing to get a job and desperate to ignore his gang background. Mo, having felt let down by his brother’s turn, takes his place in the gang.
It has been seven years since the release of Kidulthood single handedly spurred what has become a British Film making trait; The East London Gangster film. Sure, there have been others before then, but Noel Clarke’s film was the first to hit a mainstream audience with the issues of poverty and resorting to drugs to make a living head on. At the time, though, it felt much more like unfufilled potential with a lack of real depth to the setting and story but also to the characters, being more like caricatures that happened to embrace London slang then actual living humans. Since then, many festival made movies and smaller produced British movies have come along, Clarke himself doing Adulthood and 4321, but none has really come along to stop the recurring pattern. It never helped, either, that the ones that didn’t star Clarke were always compared to his films, not helping make their own way in the film landscape.
Enter Sally El Hosaini, director of shorts and having worked as a consultant and assistant on TV dramas and movies, to have a crack in her first feature film. What she doesn’t succeed in originality in terms of setting and crime related story, she achieves something that many had tried and failed to do; relate not just to the lives of the people on the much filmed council estates but flesh the characters out beyond the tropes that we all know and hate.
El Hosaini surrounded herself with a cast that have enough variables to support the story and carry her intention to make it the thinking man’s East End gangster movie. James Floyd, who plays Rashid, is the standout and could have simply played your average lead role gangster but brings enough to the role that makes you believe this guy just wants to change. His brother Mo, played by Fady Elsayed, is the counter to Rashid. He wants to be a part of the lifestyle that his brother wants to leave because he has admired him for a long time. When Mo feels betrayed, it makes sense rather then feeling like it’s there to put the plot forward. A great added touch to the cast, too, is La Haine actor Saïd Taghmaoui, who plays the photographer who gives Rashid his first job and also is involved in the film’s big plot shift.
The cinematography, along with the rest of the package, is one of the stronger points. Shots are well crafted to not just give you the effect of the estate but also making actions that happen more significant and give more impact. It marks a great demonstration of how good this is executed when you can make places in Hackney seem like the most iconic, standout imagery in ways that you would not think would be possible. It delves away from pretentious and keeps stable enough to make things realistic and not outside the realms of the realism the film constructs.
My Brother The Devil is not any means original and does cover the same topics others have attempted in the past. What makes MBTD stand out much more is the fleshing out of characters, the directions the story goes down, the beautiful cinematography and overall feel of the drama taking place. They combine together to make one of the best British made dramas in the last few years and is worth seeing whether you can relate to the subject matter or not.