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Review: ‘My Brother the Devil’ aims too high

In “My Brother the Devil,” two young Arab men living in London grapple with how to define themselves against the demands of family, tradition and the cross-cultural currents that pull them in multiple directions. Rashid (James Floyd) runs a gang that controls their neighborhood. Just as he starts to want out from the gangster life, his younger brother Mo (Fadi Elsayed) becomes determined to find a way in.

The film is the feature debut of writer-director Sally El Hosaini, and even though she shows a keen and sensitive eye for poetic detail, her storytelling is overmatched by her ambition. The introduction of a subplot involving Rashid’s emotional entanglement with a photographer (Said Taghmaoui) never feels properly integrated into the larger story, giving the film a stop-start flow rather than a headlong drive. As well, there is often something overly literal to the film, such as the gang fight that finds a pit bull stabbed along with a young man; El Hosaini can’t resist the shot of the two of them side by side, visualizing the “dog in the street” cliché.

“My Brother the Devil” is a promising debut that marks El Hosaini as a filmmaker to watch, but one still very much in the developmental stages. Floyd and Elsayed give the film a much-needed intensity, but they can’t overcome El Hosaini’s schematic storytelling.

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“My Brother the Devil.” Not rated. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes. At the Nuart.

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