Review by Camden Ferrell
Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are two directors that you may have heard about in recent years for a number of years. They were the directors of the completed and cancelled Batgirl movie last year. They also directed Bad Boys for Life in 2020 as well as did some television work with shows like Ms. Marvel. Rebel is their newest film which had its premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. This is a visually inventive and at times heartbreaking anti-radicalization movie that tackles serious issues facing people in these affected communities.
Kamal is a rapper living in Belgium. After some troubles with his lifestyle and family, he heads for Syria in an attempt to volunteer and aid victims of war. Against his will, he joins an ISIS cell and must endure the horrors of war and violence. His younger brother, Nassim, looks up to him and becomes the target of ISIS recruiters back home. Their mother, Leila, must work and try and save her youngest son from the same fate that befallen Kamal. This story is powerful and rooted in family dynamics as well as timely social issues regarding the war in Syria.
Written by both directors as well as Kevin Meul and Jan van Dyck, this script tells an emotionally effective story that blends genres well. It’s part melodrama, part action, part thriller, and part musical. This is a concept that should have been difficult to pull off on paper, but these writers manage to somehow do it. Nothing feels out of place, and all scenes flow together well. Its narrative beats feel similar at times but still have enough spins to make it feel distinct in its own right.
The acting throughout this movie was great as well. Aboubakr Bensaihi leads the film as Kamal, and he gets a chance to display his vast range of emotions. Watching his character go from a carefree rapper in Belgium, to a disturbed and tortured figure in ISIS is heartbreaking but is the core of the movie as well. Amir El Arbi, who plays Nassim, is decent enough to stand among the rest of the cast, but as a young actor, doesn’t do much to make his mark the same way his co-stars do. Lubna Azabal plays Leila, and she portrays a mother’s concern and passion so well, and she truly shines in the film’s second half.
The most exciting part of this movie was its visual style. Whether it was music video style numbers or horrifying depictions of war, the directors execute these scenes beautifully with some magical camerawork. Utilizing a decent number of longer takes, it gives the film an engaging and meaningful lens to capture its story. When they’re done with the fourth Bad Boys movie and are ready for their next project, it’s clear these directors are the real deal and are capable of delivering an inventive piece of film.
Rebel is occasionally hard to watch with its tough but honest depictions of the war in Syria. However, this is not just any other war movie. Adil & Bilall craft a captivating movie that combines genres in a creative manner without losing the emotional core of the film. It’s thrilling, it’s dramatic, and it’s gut-wrenching in all the right places.
Rebel is in theaters September 15.