Outside the Law Movie Review
In the mid-1950s, three Algerian brothers who have experienced pain at the hands of their colonial French rulers reunite in a Paris shantytown. Said (Debbouze) has brought their mother (Boudraa) to France as he seeks to money-making opportunities, Messaoud (Zem) is back from serving for France in the Indochina war, and the intellectual Abdelkader (Bouajila) is just out of prison. All three become involved in Algeria's resistance movement in different ways, as ruthless antiterrorist cop Faivre (Blancan) uses increasingly violent methods to find them.
The film opens with two prologues: in 1925 the family is thrown off its ancestral land to make room for French farmers, and peaceful marchers in 1945 Setif are gunned down by merciless French soldiers (their father is killed and Abdelkader is arrested). But rather than focus on French heavy-handedness, this is a movie about the fallout of colonialism, using the brothers' stories to shine new light on both post-European colonialism and America's proto-colonialism.
The early sections are especially riveting, as Bouchareb stages scenes with an attention to period detail and a strong narrative drive. The brothers may be a little too iconic as soldier, intellectual and gangster, but their interaction is unpredictable and fascinating, adding some spark to the rather over-serious story. Bouajila has the trickiest role as the too-obsessed Abdelkader, who struggles to balance his fiery sense of responsibility with his relationships.
If Bouchareb had included some offhanded real life to balance the Big Provocative Issues, the film might have sustained the tone to the end. As it is, things begin to drag in the final third as Faivre and the brothers engage in a series of increasingly nasty tit-for-tat attacks. But at least Bouchareb maintains a balance all the way through, as righteous passion infuses the violent actions of people on all sides of the situation. There aren't really any good or bad guys here, but everyone's operating rather a long way outside the law.