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.