Outside the Law | Movie review
An impressive, if caricature-heavy, historical epic critiques a chapter of French colonialism.
Three Algerian brothers are thrust headlong into oppressive destinies: Abdelkader (Bouajila) is schooled in the ideology of the National Liberation Front while in prison. Messaoud (Zem) witnesses the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare as a POW in Indochine. Saïd (Debbouze) embraces the life of illegal entrepreneurship, moving from pimping to running nightclubs (but what he really wants to do is manage boxers). When the three eventually reunite in a shantytown outside of Paris in the late ’50s, the two politicized siblings start sticking it to the Man. The third, however, just wants his fighter to win the French championship. To say this causes some interfamilial tension would be an understatement.
Bouchareb’s Oscar-nominated Days of Glory (2006) gave WWII’s neglected Franco-Arabic soldiers their own Saving Private Ryan; this revolutionary-as-tragic-hero parable is nothing less than a decade-spanning crime saga–cum–historical epic chronicling Algeria’s fight for independence. And while you can’t fault the film’s scope or impressive set pieces—machine-gun shoot-outs, chaotic riots, counterterrorist cat-and-mouse games—you can wonder how much more effective this reclamation would be if everything weren’t reduced to crudely drawn caricatures. Even the movie’s trio of outstanding actors come off like mouthpieces from a creaky Group Theater play, spiced with an occasional Cagneyism or two. Such a black chapter in Gallic colonialism deserves both a Godfather and an Exodus of its own, not just a muddled, propagandistic melding of the two laden with sound and fury.