Who doesn’t love a compelling gangster epic?
Outside the Law isn’t technically a gangster film, but it sure as hell plays like one, with a tone, aesthetic and narrative structure not unlike The Godfather (or more accurately, The Godfather, Part II). In fact, if watched with the sound off, one could easily assume it's depicting the rise of an organized crime family rather than Algerian freedom fighters.
In post-WWII Algeria, Said (Janel Debbouze), Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) and Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) are three close-knit brothers whose lives get thrown into turmoil due to French occupation of the country. After their father’s murder (gunned down in the streets by French soldiers), Said flees to France with his mother, hoping to start a new life. Messaoud has-since joined the military and gets wounded fighting in Indochina. Abdelkader is sentenced to eight years in prison as part of the FLN (National Liberation Front), the group fighting for Algerian independence.
When Abdelkader is released, he wastes little time forming an FLN resistance movement in France itself, recruiting Messaoud. As they make plans, gather loyalists and raise capital for their cause - often illegally - Said refuses to join the movement, having carved a niche as a pimp, nightclub owner and boxing promoter.
The film garnered some controversy in France. Considering this is a French-Algerian co-production, it certainly paints the former in a negative light, depicting the police as cruel and vicious, almost sadistic. Politics aside, though, Outside the Law is an intense, gripping film when focused on the three brothers. Each changes considerably during the decade-or-so that the story takes place, not always for the better. We initially sympathize with them, but as the conflict escalates, what’s left Abdelkader’s humanity succumbs to his cause, while the constant killing - sometimes of innocent people - begins to weigh heavily on Messaoud (though that doesn’t stop him). Ironically, it’s Said - a criminal before all of this even started - who ends up as the most conflicted, thus earning most of the viewer’s empathy.
Almost epic in scope, Outside the Law is - at its heart - a gangster saga chronicling the rise of a powerful family. Sweeping, violent and ultimately tragic, the only major difference is that a nation’s independence is at stake. Running nearly two-and-a-half hours, things could have been trimmed up a bit (the scenes involving the mother and Messaoud’s new family are a little meandering). But for the most part, this is a terrific film with a compelling story, dynamic characters and solid performances.
MAKING-OF FEATURETTE - With interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR RACHID BOUCHAREB