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-[Film Reviews]-, European Cinema, Middle Eastern & North African Cinema

‘Outside the Law’ (2010): Wannabe Gangster Filmmaking


Directed by: Rachid Bouchareb || Produced by: Jean Brehat

Screenplay by: Rachid Bouchareb, Olivier Lorelle || Starring: Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila

Music by: Armand Amar || Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne || Editing by: Yannick Kergoat || Country: France, Algeria, Tunisia, Belgium || Language: French, Arabic

Running Time: 137 minutes

Hors-la-loi, also known as خارجون عن القانون, also known as Outside the Law (OTL), will always hold a special place in my heart for being the first film I ever saw at a college movie theatre. OTL is an entertaining enough experience, and I was glad that I took the time to get to know my local theatre, but I am always a little disappointed when I think of Hors-la-loi, because OTL is not a good film at all.

It has its moments, to be sure, but whenever the Algerian revolutionaries and the French fuzz aren’t shooting each other, the movie is a bore to watch. Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem, and Sami Bouajila act well enough as the three Algerian brothers that the narrative follows, despite having little to work with from the script. Unfortunately, all of the brothers are one-dimensional, one-note characters with little to no depth to them. We witness some pseudo, mafia-esque freedom fighters carry out revolutionary work that helps lead to the independence of the former French colony, but it’s hard to care at all because there is nobody to connect with on screen.

Top: OTL attempts to pay homage to famous gangster flicks in its revolutionary, freedom-fighter setting —- unsuccessfully, I might add. Bottom: The boxing subplot is poorly implemented.

Things hit rock-bottom when Sami Bouajila’s character’s takes a feeble pass at a romantic relationship with a blonde, and the eye-rolling spikes to an all-time high. Even the film’s lazy attempt at a finale fails to squeeze any sort of drama or excitement out of the weak narrative.

While the three brothers of interest are cardboard cutouts, at least they are distinguishable cardboard cutouts. One of them is a die hard, patriotic Algerian revolutionary (Sami Bouajila), one is a laid back debonair who has a random interest in boxing, with little interest in political activism (Jamel Debbouze), and Roschdy Zem is somewhere in the middle. I guess I can remember vague personality traits — that’s something. Too bad not one of them developed or grew in any sort of way, because given how shallow and forgettable all three characters are, there is nothing here that warrants an in-depth character study. Worst of all, nobody is ever designated as the main character. We don’t know who we should actually root for, because the film never tells us.

On the plus side, we do feel some animosity towards the French authorities, who are shown as oppressive and cold toward the Algerian immigrant population, who spend most of the movie living in slums. The narrative does at least build some level of distaste for the bad guys, providing ample examples of their bad behavior. Easily the best parts of the flick are its few shootouts. It’s unfortunate how little we care about the characters in them, as these political assassinations and gun battles could be really intense if we were invested in what was going on with the three brothers.

Altogether, Outside the Law’s lazy script, combined with its long run-time (137 minutes), make this a poor choice for North American audiences new to foreign cinema. It is also a poor viewing choice for film fans in general, due to the fact that it is a poorly made film. It’ll always have a soft spot in my heart given the situation in which I first saw it, like I said, but honestly, I wish I had started college with a better movie.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Outside the Law has no likable characters, is poorly paced, and doesn’t have much to say beyond “imperialism is bad.” The film feels disorganized without a main character. The entire romantic-subplot and subsequent assassination, though mercilessly short, is a complete waste of time.

However… the action scenes are intense and tightly edited.


? Dd the film ever explain why Debbouze only had one arm? What happened to the other one?

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.



  1. Pingback: ‘Gun City’ (2018): In the Shadow of the Law | Express Elevator to Hell - March 2, 2023

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