Sharply well-observed, this punchy British drama is packed with rising-star talent, including its gifted first-time writer-director, an engaging young cast and skilled cinematographer David Raedeker. The film also daringly tackles hot potato issues without ever getting preachy about them: this is an intimate, deeply involving story that can't help but make us think.
It's set in Hackney, where the British-born Mo (Elsayed) lives with his Egyptian parents. Mo is a sharp kid who has just finished his exams and has a bright future, but he idolises his cool big brother Rash (Floyd) and wants to join his drug gang. To protect Mo, Rash quits the gang and takes a proper job as assistant to a French-Arabic photographer (Taghmaoui). But when Mo discovers that Rash might be gay, he freaks out, offering to run drugs for the gang leader (Hamdouchi) and letting everyone think that Rash is actually a terrorist.
Instead of the usual urban London melodrama, this story is told through the relationships, which makes it hugely involving right from the start. This also lets the actors shine with transparent, honest performances that draw out the complexity in every situation. At the centre, Floyd creates wonderful textures in his protective interaction with the expressive, likeable Elfayed. As things begin to shift, their reactions are gripping. And this extends to scenes with side characters like Rash's best pal Izzi (Welsh) and Mo's tentative girlfriend Aisha (Wright).
All of this is held together skilfully by writer-director Hosaini, who gives the film a relaxed, realistic tone from the start, drawing out the often jarring realities of family relationships. It's beautifully shot, although the editing is a little choppy, letting things occasionally feel overwrought as Hosaini focusses more on the violent tension than the more engaging romantic undercurrents. But by bravely exploring terrorism and sexuality in a Muslim setting, she says some very important things about British society. And she also offers some hope for those trying to break the cycle of criminality.
Run time: 111 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th November 2012
Box Office USA: $10.3k
Distributed by: Paladin
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 40 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Sally El Hosaini
Producer: Julia Godzinskaya, Gayle Griffiths, Michael Sackler
Screenwriter: Sally El Hosaini
Starring: James Floyd as Rashid, Fady Elsayed as Mo, Saïd Taghmaoui as Sayyid, Aymen Hamdouchi as Repo, Ashley Bashy Thomas as Lenny, Anthony Welsh as Izzi, Arnold Oceng as Aj, Letitia Wright as Aisha, Amira Ghazalla as Hanan, Elarica Gallacher as Vanessa, Nasser Memarzia as Abdul-Aziz
Also starring: Said Taghmaoui
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