Tartan Video // 2010 // 139 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // August 24th, 2011
Three brothers. One destiny. Freedom at all costs.
Rachid Bouchareb's Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi) is a thematic sequel to the director's 2006 World War II opus, Days of Glory (Indigènes). It even includes much of the same principal cast. The earlier movie concerned the French exploitation of group of Algerian soldiers fighting in North Africa. Outside the Law picks up in 1945 as a trio of young Algerian brothers is forced to relocate to the immigrant ghettos of Paris after the Sétif massacre forces them from their land. The middle brother, Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), becomes a charismatic leader in the Algerian independence movement, while youngest brother, Saïd (Jemel Debbouze), tries to lift himself out of poverty by promoting boxing matches and pimping prostitutes. When eldest brother Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) returns to Paris from fighting in Vietnam with the French military, he wants only to live a quiet life. But his brothers convince him that with his military experience, Abdelkader's political acumen, and Saïd's criminal connections, the men can advance the cause of Algerian independence while making a fortune for themselves by dominating organized crime among Paris' immigrant population.
Outside the Law is far more dramatic and politically rich on paper than it is in execution. Bouchareb attempts to meld weighty political history with crime and noir genre conventions, but doesn't quite pull it off. His misstep is trying to divide his narrative focus evenly among the three brothers, rather than focusing primarily on Messaoud. The slow corruption of Abdelkader's political idealism, and Saïd's forfeiture of his soul to the utilitarian demands of a life of crime, are dramatically compelling but too rote and predictable to be the goings-on of primary characters. By contrast, Messaoud's conflict over wanting a quiet life but believing that doing his brothers' dirty work is his only route out of poverty carries genuine emotional weight. His remorseful confession to his mother on her deathbed is the movie's most affecting scene. Unfortunately, the picture's frequent excursions away from Messaoud's tragic tale and into the lives of Abdelkader and Saïd leave its 139-minute running time feeling bloated and overly languid for a movie that seems to want to crackle along with the taut sense of pacing one expects of a crime film. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Outside the Law received mixed reviews from critics in its home country of France who accused Bouchareb of making an occasionally compelling but too often shallow imitation of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, and of reducing complex political history into a one-dimensional morality play. I tend to think the Academy over-estimated the quality of the film, while French critics had its number. Outside the Law's genre-bound characters are too blunt to function as tools of Bouchareb's political explorations, yet the movie is too long and slow to entertain as a straight-forward crime picture.
Tartan's Blu-ray presentation of Outside the Law is a mediocrity. In its best moments, the 1080p/AVC transfer is about what you'd expect from a really good DVD presentation. In its worst moments (which are many), it sports weak detail, washed out colors, and black levels that render as dark grays.
The default audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that is vibrant, punchy, and loud. Spatial imaging is excellent, with the rear soundstage receiving plenty of play. There's also an English dub presented in Dolby stereo.
Extras include a 27-minute making-of featurette; a whopping 28-minutes of deleted scenes (presented as a single, continuous reel); a teaser and full trailer for the movie; and interviews with Bouchareb, Bouajila, Debbouze, and Zem.
If you're curious about Outside the Law, rent it. This Blu-ray's transfer is close to awful, and the movie's shortcomings rob it of any replay value.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 139 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes