The young characters of My Brother the Devil live in a world of perpetual violence, gang feuds and abuses both chemical and physical. It’s a world where a legitimate road to success is all-but invisible, and brash machismo – often backed-up by cold steel – is an ugly substitute for ambition. They’re pawns to their generals, men in their late-20s whose council houses are decked out like City Boy bachelor pads, except that for every set of iconic black-and-white photographs in a frame cluster, there’s a pair of antique machetes.
This is the world that Sally El Hosaini presents, and it’s one we’re all familiar with. Over the last decade, British cinema has indulged in something of an angry love affair with ‘the endz’, pushing out a steady stream of ‘gritty crime dramas’ with a tendency to feel like washed-out retreads of Boyz N the Hood with more muddled Afro-Caribbean patois and fewer barbeques. This recent tradition is carried over into My Brother the Devil but, thankfully, there’s something else going on underneath…
Unlike the other 2012 crime drama focusing around disenfranchised youths on the mean streets of East London, My Brother the Devil steers clear of the kind of sensationalism that dogged Ill Manors, and instead delivers a story of genuine heart and warmth amidst the backdrop of violence and poverty. The world the characters inhabit may be dark, but glimmers of light shine through. This is all well-trod territory, and a few of the plot turns come off a little heavy-handed, but Sally El Hosaini’s film is full of hope and humour, with well-drawn characters expertly played by the young cast, believable dialogue that isn’t afraid to occasionally step back and laugh at itself.
Overall, it feels like a far more balanced and therefore more honest account of the lives of young people in contemporary urban London. Other, harder crime dramas of recent years may claim to “tell it like it is”, but one suspects the filmmakers are, to a certain extent, serving their own creation myth. Hosaini maintains a certain level of professional detachment from the subject matter – no matter how close these characters and situations may be to her personal experiences and feelings, her priorities as a storyteller are straight, and this helps make My Brother the Devil the most satisfying entry yet into the ‘contemp. Brit-crime’ sub-genre.
My Brother the Devil releases 9 November 2012.
Odeon West End in its full glory