Writer/Director Rachid Bouchareb's Outside The Law (or, if you prefer, Hors La Loi) is set in the Algeria of 1925 where we meet three brothers who, along with the rest of their family, are thrown off of the land that they've owned for countless years by French aristocrats. Essentially homeless, Said (Jamel Debbouze), Messaoud (Roschdy Zem) and Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila) eventually move to Paris with the rest of their group with some understandable resentment towards the French growing stronger by the day. After the move they figure out ways to make ends meet - Said works as a pimp and gets involved in boxing matches, really the only way he can think of to support his mother (Chafia Boudraa), while Messaoud joins the French army and serves in Indochina. Abdelkader starts getting more involved on a local, political level with what is happening in Algeria though this lands him a stint in jail.
It's not too long before Messaoud returns to Paris in 1955, his world view shaped by what he say and his head full of ideas of revolution. Abdelkader is let out of prison and with a new fire in his belly for a cause he truly believes in, he winds up joining the Front de Liberation Nationale, at which point he convinces Messaoud to join with him. The two wind up at the forefront of the FLN's prime objective, which is to get the French out of Algeria by hitting them where it hurts the most - in France. As the FLN's work intensifies, the three brothers must decide how hard a stance they want to take, with Abdelkader front and center in the movement and Said further out, hoping not to rock the boat too much while trying to legitimize his business. While this is going on, Colonel Faivre (Bernard Blancan), an Algerian defector, is brought on board by the French authorities to form an anti-terrorism group dubbed The Red Hand.
To pretty much entirely from the Algerian point of view, this is a film that wears its politics on its sleeve as plain as day. What makes the film interesting is the way that it tells its story, by setting up the conflict between the three brothers and giving it as much weight and importance as the conflict we all know is going to arise between the Algerian revolutionaries and the French forces. As the story plays out we see the three of them evolve and change as the events in the story begin to effect them on a personal level and it makes for decent character development, something which gives Outside The Law a bit more depth than your standard war/action/drama film. Much of this seems wasted, however, when the film jumps ahead in time by years, leaving large chunks of empty space in its timeline and what we sometimes wind up with is characters who have been well developed only to ultimately stand as three different political views on the subject, rather than three different people with political views. The men get caught up in the message, so to speak.
While the story is well assembled and the film well edited, it does tend to play out a lot like you expect it to and as such there aren't as many surprises as there might have been had the filmmakers taken a different approach. The structure of the film is very matter of fact and very straight forward and so we can almost predict what's going to happen before it does, so this does take some of the wind out of the movie's sails. That said, the good does outweigh the bad here. All three of the actors who play the trio of brothers are very good in their respective roles and are quite believable not just in terms of their performances but their look as well. This segues nicely into some thoughts on the film's production values, which are uniformly strong throughout. There's obviously been a good bit of care put into getting the costumes and background props right for the various years that the movie plays out in and the production design is very strong as well. As far as the action scenes go, we're more involved with the aftermath than the actual acts of war but this is handled well and the visuals are impressive enough that the film always holds our attention. In the end it could have had more punch by taking a stronger stance on certain issues, it kind of peters out in the department, but overall this is worth a watch for those who enjoy historical dramas and war movies.
Outside The Law looks good in this AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35.1. Colors are crisp and well defined and detail is generally pretty strong throughout, not just in close ups but in the backgrounds of long and medium distance shots as well. There are some minor compression artifacts here and there and some slight edge enhancement if you want to look for it but not much in the way of print damage to not. There's a gritty look to the film that works well in the context of the story being told and that's replicated here rather nicely. Black levels are strong and while this is sometimes a bleak looking film, overall this Blu-ray is a good looking release.
Audio options are supplied in French DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio or in English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, with subtitles offered in both English and French. Obviously the loss mix is the way to go as it presents the film in its original language and sounds quite a bit more full and real. The levels are well balanced, there are no problems with hiss or distortion, and the surrounds are used well to help fill out the soundscape and add some atmosphere.
There are some substantial extra features here starting with a making of featurette (27:23) that includes some welcome background information on the real life events that inspired this film as well as some interviews with the cast and crew that cover cinematography, casting, locations and more. It's a little bit clip heavy at times but overall it's pretty informative. Rachid Bouchareb pops up for an interview (12:16) in which he talks about his motives for making this film, the politics behind it, and the research that went into the pre-production aspect of the movie. It's interesting to hear how much effort went into recreating the slums seen in the movie and about the history of Algeria. There's also 19:41 worth of cast interviews here, with the three principal male leads talking about what it was like working with Bouchareb, their thoughts on the movie, their thoughts on their respective characters and what it was like working on a large scale historical production like this. There are some cool behind the scenes photographs scattered throughout here.
Aside from that, look for a 28:23 worth of deleted scenes (an interesting bit where French soldiers try to get the rebels to step down, some character development bits with the mother of the three brothers, and more interaction between the three bothers among others), a teaser trailer, a theatrical trailer, trailers for a few other Palisades Tartan releases, menus and chapter stops. Menus are available in both English and French. All of the extras are in HD, which is a nice touch.
Outside The Law gets bogged down here and there but overall turns out to be a pretty interesting and enjoyable look at some interesting events in European history. The movie is incredibly well shot and the performances are also very strong. The Blu-ray release looks good and sounds good and contains some worthwhile extra features as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.