Friday, 2 May 2014

Review - Outside the Law (2010 - Dir. Rachid Bouchareb)

Outside the Law (or to give its original title Hors la loi which sounds like it's from a way dirtier genre) is the entry of cheery rank outsider Jamel Debbouze in this year's FA Cup of Actors. Debouzze was entered into the competition by Doccortex because he'd seen him in Days of Glory and quite liked the little fellow. I have to say that I was a bit sceptical, mainly due to this picture:

But the lad's done well. Outside the Law is a pretty decent film. In fact, a very decent film. Well above the standard of film making that I'm used to. Everything about it reeks of professionalism. Let's start with the script. It is based on the real events surrounding Algeria gaining independence from France. It does so through the eyes of three brothers: Abdelkader, a local leader of the FLN, determined to free Algeria, Messaoud, a soldier who comes back to be Abdelkader's right hand man in an honourable struggle, and Said (Debbouze) who starts off as a pimp then graduates to owning his own cabaret theatre and boxing empire. He's not too bothered about independence, he's more concerned with wearing a nifty hat and smoking big cigars. 

The director has an unintrusive style that draws the viewer into the events. No fancy tricks here, he just cracks on and tells the story. Despite being 138 minutes long my attention was held throughout, which is pretty good considering my threshold is normally 90 minutes. The only problem I had was my own ignorance of these events which made some of the early scenes quite hard to follow. But it's not the film's fault that I'm a thick northerner.

I do actually have a couple of legitimate problems with Outside the Law though. Firstly - and this is a picky "matter of taste" technical issue - I didn't think that there was enough contrast in the image. I had recently watched To Catch a Thief on blu-ray and the textures looked so crisp and, well, textured that I was mightily impressed for such an old film. Outside the Law meanwhile looks a tad pale and washed out in comparison. The textures in the shanty town are all present and correct but didn't wow me. A little tweak to the contrast during the grading process would have sorted this out. Other people may like this look but I wasn't too keen. 

Secondly, it was not as emotionally affecting as I thought it was going to be. I had empathy for the characters but I didn't care for them as much as I should. The only scene that helped to endear them to me in the slightest was at a wedding where the three brothers do an amusing dance. Funny, but not quite enough to make me really bothered about them.

Now let's get to Debbouze. I've really warmed to him and his cigar smoking ways. The other two brothers are generally very serious and Debbouze adds a touch of lightness to the proceedings, although he's still able to turn on the emotion when he needs to. All in all he's a likeable fellow who I think has earned his place as part of the obscurendure family.

You may feel that my final rating is a bit on the harsh side and you'd be right. It's a really well made film with an engaging story that many people will rate more highly. So why the low score? It's just not my cup of tea. Even with the above problems fixed it would have had a limit of 8/10. Doccortex meanwhile, will probably like it a lot more than me. I've no doubt he'll give it a watch and tell you in a comment what he thinks about it.

Nevertheless, it's a very respectable score for Debbouze and Jennifer Jason Leigh has certainly got her work cut out. (I'm secretly hoping that Debbouze makes it through so I can watch another of his offerings, but we'll see...)

If you like this you could also try:
Days of Glory, Waltz with Bashir.


  1. I'm really pleased for him. I've seen him in a couple of films and he's been great in both. And that promo picture of him makes me like him more! Roll on the next round - go Jamel!

  2. The picture makes him look like he's in Strictly Come Dancing. Not a good thing.