My Brother The Devil is a story about the relationship between two brothers of Egyptian decent set on the tough and ethnically diverse streets of Hackney in London. Rashid (James Floyd) is the older of the two (probably just out of high school) and runs with a gang dealing drugs and performing other lower level tasks. Despite his gang allegiance, Rashid has a kind heart when it comes to his family. He slips money into his mother’s purse and watches out for his younger brother, Mo (Fady Elsayed).
The film opens with Mo riding his bicycle, dressed in his school uniform, to the gym where his brother Rashid is working out. The camera follows the point of view from Mo’s eyes when his big brother comes out of the gym and pretends to spar with his little brother while Mo circles Rashid with his bicycle. This is a good way to illustrate how much Mo admires and looks up to Rashid. The camera also displays this in other moments early on in the movie to show how much Mo looks up to and wants to emulate Rashid.
Another example of this is when Rashid’s girlfriend sneaks into the boys’ bedroom. The camera is positioned above the boys’ bunk beds so the viewer can see both Rashid and Mo. Mo pretends to be asleep, but is listening to the couple whisper about life. Mo is nearly beaming with pride. However, it is Rashid’s decisions during one summer that test the brother’s relationship and Mo’s admiration for his big brother.
Rashid hadn’t thought of a life other than with his gangster buddies until his friend and fellow gang member AJ (Arnold Oceng) is killed by a rival gang member named Demon (Leemore Marrett). AJ wanted out of the gang life and had gone on a proper job interview before being killed. This gives Rashid pause as to being a gangster and he ends up befriending a successful photographer who AJ used to deal to named Sayyid (Said Taghmaoui). Sayyid mentors Rashid, but Sayyid’s sexuality causes Rashid to do some soul searching of his own, while Mo falls in with his brother’s gang, causing a rift in their relationship.
This film is successful on many levels. It is a multi-layered story involving: family, brothers, and decisions about life and sexuality. Yet, the story is very well paced. One layer does not overwhelm or drown out another. When Rashid is spending time with Sayyid, there are frequent cuts to how Mo is progressing and changing to try to be like the gangster-Rashid he’s been looking up to for so long and not the new-Rashid who sees a life beyond Hackney, yet never giving up on wanting a better life for his little brother.
The cinematography is patient and thoughtful, despite there being a lot going on (this film won best cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival). The camera watches and viewers will feel invited into this created world like a participant in the decisions which drive the plot forward.
Also important is that viewers will care about the characters. Rashid may be a drug dealer in a gang, but he makes sure to slip money into his mother’s purse and shows his affection for her. This way, when things get rocky for Rashid, we root for him because we believe that at his core he has a good heart. We want things to work out for him, particularly his relationship with Mo.
My Brother The Devil is released beginning March 22, 2013 in New York and beginning April 5, 2013 in Los Angeles.