Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Cast: Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila
Bernard Blancan, Chafia Boudraa, Assaad Bouab
Outside the Law is a film that's actually rather restricted by cinematic conventions. As if trying to keep itself bounded by the notions of what makes a film politically correct, it deals with one of the darkest episodes of the twentieth century by filtering it through a sensibility that would please Hollywood's rulebook on how to bend history for dramatic purposes.
The story spans for almost two decades and takes us to French occupied Algeria where it concentrates on three brothers who, fed up with French colonialists, decide to take the law upon their hands.
We see how they are kicked out of their land as children and then join the FLN as grown men. The entire film then consists of vignettes that lead us to the only politically correct solution you can have in a movie about terrorists who are doing the "right thing" (yes, that finale...).
The problem with Outside the Law is that it does this without any real conviction, the whole movie seems to move aimlessly towards a resolution it might not agree with but still feels like the only one they could deliver without getting in trouble.
The film shows unmistakable technical mastery but everything is done with such stale, almost impersonal efficiency that you wonder if there is any actual urgency behind the making of this movie.
Each of the three brothers the story concentrates on, is given a determinate quality that identifies him without making him human.
The protagonist among them is perhaps Said (Debbouze) who has the most prominent scenes and is the most easily recognizable actor. He gets the duty of fulfilling the rebel hero/prodigal son in a movie that already spends most of its running time expressing how everyone already is providing stereotypical roles.
Outside the Law only breaks any convention when it bends history, turns it into dramatic putty and then proceeds to shape it at its will, however said will is what the film lacks.
Some moments seem to be saying that the film is criticizing the way France handled Algeria but then the movie turns its heroes into monsters.
This could be call impartiality and objectivity. Neither should be the qualities of a fiction movie but if they were, they should be clearly stated that way. What Bouchareb does here however is take a bit of everything that serves him to make a movie that condemns and later takes it back, analyzes and then stereotypes, over dramatizes and then tries to create docudrama...
For a movie that in theory had so much to say, it's sad that it never takes cue from the revolutionary spirit its heroes are supposed to have.