Although bearing the hallmarks of a conventional council estate gangland flick, My Brother The Devil is a far more surprising, intelligent experience that lends familiarity and accessibility to challenging themes. Two Hackney brothers of Egyptian descent, Rash (James Floyd) and Mo (Fady Elsayed), live vastly different lives. Rash, successful drug dealer and leader of the DMG (Drugs Money Guns) gang, is determined that his little brother will have a better life and an education - but after years of idolising Rash all Mo wants is to be a part of his sleazy empire. As a gang rivalry becomes increasingly hostile, Rash starts to lose his taste for it and seeks solace in a new relationship that awakens him to a world away from the streets. But during his absence Mo falls deeper into gangland and both young men must individually find their way in the world.
Much of this film's strength comes from how well-observed the characters and performances are. These aren't some cringeworthy BBC Three Hackney yoots - their mannerisms and dialect are as authentic as anything you'd see on Mare Street. Many of the cliches and ticks of the genre are present, but it's executed with an honesty and artfulness that elevate it above its contemporaries. This is frequently where 'urban' dramas fall down and lose any semblance of authenticity. By treating its stars as rounded human beings and not just stylised cutouts the film retains a real emotive pull as the brothers' lives become increasingly complex. Every performance is near flawless, with Fady Elsayed as the younger of the pair being the remarkable standout. Tasked with communicating the range of adolescent angst and euphoria, the youngster is so natural the spell of realism is never broken.
Its only real downfall is a structure and pace that loses momentum in a winding middle section featuring Rash caught between two lives. The story begins to stop and start while splitting off to new tangents and, without a definitive focus, interest levels do wane. Fortunately the world is so well created and visually arresting, and the relationships so enjoyable, it cultivates enough goodwill to keep you on board. Exploring unexpected issues and relationships the twists and turns of My Brother The Devil deserve not to be spoilt by a review, but suffice to say it offers a subversive social commentary and a depth that is concealed by the surface detail - allowing it silently to get under your skin with a genuine emotive power.