Outside the Law
They weren’t kidding when they said it was a gated community.

Theatrical Release Date: 11/03/2010
Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Cast: Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, Chafia Boudraa, Bernard Blancan, Sabrina Seyvecou, Assaad Bouab


Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub, yea God!

For those of you who saw the 2006 film, “Days of Glory”, rest assured that “Outside the Law” is a completely different film. Sure, both deal with French/Algerian relations. Sure, both star Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem and Sami Bouajila – playing characters with the same first names (Bernard Blancan and Assaad Bouab get new ones though). And sure, both are written and directed by Rachid Bouchareb. But other than that, they’re totally different.

Cynicism aside, it appears that Bouchareb was hoping to create an epic, along the lines of “The Untouchables” or “The Godfather”. The story spans almost 40 years; with the first section of the film giving background necessary to understand a family’s plight, starting with the eviction from ancestral lands in 1925 due to the occupying French colonists; moving through riots in post WWII Algeria in their quest for independence and into the mid 1950s, where we find three brothers struggling to survive in Paris slums. Saïd (Debbouze) is hoping to create wealth for himself, Abdelkader (Bouajila) has become politically motivated due to time spent in jail and Messaoud (Kem) has just returned from a tour of duty in Indochina, fighting on behalf of the French controlled Algerian army.

Once reunited, they use their individual skills to further the resistance movement via the National Liberation Front (the acronym is FLN thanks to its language of origin). Fed up with being ruled by France, Algerians are not only working to expunge them in their home country but also by putting pressure on French soil. It’s the classic example where what side you’re on determines being called a terrorist or a freedom fighter.

The bulk of the film then unfolds over the late ’50s and early ’60s as Algeria gains its independence. Saying that is merely stating historical fact, not a spoiler, because although this is a story about the injustice of foreign rule and some of the atrocities committed in that time, Bouchareb tries to focus squarely on these three brothers – on the sacrifices they made on behalf of their family and country. Unfortunately, he’s not always successful, as some elements feel like requisite footnotes in history more than character development. There’s so much to tell and at times, it felt like plot points were being crammed in rather than flowing through.

All of the actors do a good job and a bit of thanks must definitely go to the production design department. Having to depict a number of time periods isn’t easy but it comes across nicely and while the sets aren’t elaborate, they feel genuine and help to create the atmosphere necessary for the film. Also, it’s clear that Bouchareb is passionate about the manner in which Algerians were treated under French rule, especially when adding “Days of Glory” to the mix. That passion carries through but there’s so much ground to cover here that he fell short in keeping the energy level up, and the two plus hours felt much closer to a solid three hour event.

This is more for history buffs than casual film goers and there were French protests when this was being shown at Cannes regarding the historical accuracy so that’s one thing to keep in mind. Still, taken as more of a personal story about three brothers than a historical document, there’s a lot to like and admire in the film. Bouchareb wasn’t able to fully draw me in because of the pacing issues and scattered focus but “Outside the Law” asks some difficult questions and gets good performances out of its actors, earning the film a 3 out of 5.

3 out of 5