Set on the streets of Hackney, teenage Mo (Fady Elsayed) idolises his older brother, Rashid (James Floyd), but his adulation is misplaced. The handsome Rashid is a gang member and drug dealer, but he loves his little bro' and is determined that the guileless Mo should stay on the straight and narrow. Their Egyptian migrant family has little money to spare, so Rashid helps out, sneaking a few extra bank notes into his mother's purse. One summer, as gang violence heats up, Mo witnesses an incident that rips into the brotherly bond and sets him on a dangerous path.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Sally El Hosaini’s debut feature treads a familiar path as a saga of two brothers caught up in gang warfare in East London until about the halfway mark when it veers into fresh, bold territory.
The performances from James Floyd and newcomer Fady Elsayed are first
The result: My Brother the Devil is a satisfying, original drama, a heady brew of murder, betrayal, sexuality, spiritual beliefs, vengeance and redemption, from the Welsh-Egyptian writer-director.
The performances from James Floyd as Rashid and newcomer Fady Elsayed as his impressionable young brother Mohammed – Mo for short – are first class. However, the technique of using a number of non-pro actors in supporting roles backfires as several are stiff and unconvincing. El Hosaini has a good ear for the street patois and there are plenty of sharply written exchanges, although some expressions may be hard to understand.
The elder lad runs with a small-time gang known as DMG (meaning Drugs, Money, Guns), dealing in pot and cocaine. He’s nicknamed Rash for a good reason: he’s an impulsive hot head. Mo worships him and wants to follow in his footsteps. But after Mo is mugged by members of a rival gang while delivering money in a drug deal, Rash insists that his kid brother focus on his studies and encourages him to go college or university.
They live with their hardworking, caring, Egyptian-born parents in a housing estate in Hackney. Rash’s girlfriend Vanessa (Elarica Gallacher) sneaks into their bedroom for the occasional tryst while Mo befriends Aisha (Letitia Wright), a demure, innocent Muslim girl who moved into the neighbourhood.
Both lads seemingly are caught between the traditional values and aspirations of their parents and the lure of street crime and easy cash.
After watching his best friend get stabbed to death in a clash with a gang led by a fearsome dude named Demon (Leemore Marrett Jr.), Rash obtains a gun, seeks out Demon, gets ready to shoot, but bottles out.
Tensions flare between the siblings as Mo resents Rash hanging out with Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui), a French photographer who employs him as an assistant and introduces him to a different lifestyle. Mo is clearly jealous, objecting to the brainy Sayyid’s 'classy swagger" and his conversations with Rash about Middle Eastern politics and the prophet Mohammed.
Rash decides to try to extricate himself from DMG while, unbeknown to him, Mo is getting sucked into the criminal culture. The suspense builds as Rash’s loyalty to his brother is severely tested and one key plot twist is cleverly structured.
Floyd manages the difficult trick of portraying Rash as an outwardly tough, cocky young man with a soft, vulnerable centre, and Elsayed is terrific as the sensitive, confused and conflicted Mo. Taghmaoui excels as mature, thoughtful man who has broken free from his troubled past.
David Raedeker's restless camera alternates between intimate close-ups of the characters and wide shots that portray a glossy, colourful section of suburban London, a welcome contrast to the grungy look of many English dramas. He won the cinematography award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Stuart Earl's synthesizer-based score is a simple but effective enhancement of the shifting moods.