Rebel review – two brothers torn apart by Islamic State and extremism
The Bad Boys for Life directors experiment with the genre to good effect, deftly portraying the impact of different forms of violence
With 2015’s critically acclaimed Black, a modern-day Romeo & Juliet romance set in the underworld of Brussels, and the international smash hit Bad Boys for Life in 2020, the Belgian-Moroccan film-making duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have proved their knack for blending social commentary with genre excitement. (We’ll never see what they managed with the cancelled Batgirl film.) Informed by the wave of jihadist radicalisation that has led young Arab men in Belgium to join Islamic State, Rebel is the pair’s most personal, thematically ambitious film yet.
The film explores the complex roots of extremism through the prism of brotherhood. An aimless slacker numbed by cheap thrills such as drugs, Kamal (Aboubakr Bensaihi), travels to Syria with the noble aim of social work only to be forced into IS’s ranks. Stunned by a video in which Kamal executes Assad loyalists in cold blood, little brother Nassim (Amir El Arbi) falls in with a group of manipulative IS sympathisers who promise to reunite the siblings in the conflict zone. The two very different worlds – Kamal’s reality of bloodshed and Nassim’s adolescent naivety – will later collide to shattering, destructive effect.