The latest from the Belgian-Moroccan writing/directing team of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who made Black, Bad Boys for Life, and the aborted 2022 Batgirl movie that David Zaslav determined would make more money for WarnerBros/Discovery/MAX (or whatever it's called now) as a tax write-off than if the company released that full-finished picture (this is the stage of capitalism we've now reached, folks). The duo, collectively billed as Adil & Bilall, is known for blending social commentary with action-picture excitement, which certainly describes Rebel. The film combines elements of many genres—domestic drama, war movie, procedural, and musical—to tell the tale of how a young Belgium Muslim is radicalized and goes off to the Jihadist frontlines of Syria.
Aboubakr Bensaihi plays Kamal, an amateur DJ, rapper, mechanic, and occasional coke dealer doing poorly in school, in trouble with the law, who is convinced to join ISIS in the fight against Assad. He quickly realizes that the glamorous, heroic, exciting life of an extremist that he was sold was a lie. Refusing to carry a gun, he's put in charge of videotaping the exploits of his band of fighters and is forced to take a wife (the excellent Tara Abboud). Despite his official role as an ISIS propagandist, Kamal tries desperately to get word back to his little brother Nassim (played with intensity and humanity by young Amir El Arbi) to avoid the clarion call to arms.
The filmmaker's trademark virtuosic action sequences never trivialize or glamorize the real-life atrocities their story depicts. The musical numbers, where Kamal raps his thoughts, music-video-style, straight into camera (the filmmaker's camera, not his), are less effective. There isn't enough musical content for these surrealist flights of fancy not to feel like intrusions into an otherwise realistic, if highly stylized, picture. Still, the movie gets its points across in a captivating way that sticks with you.
Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah's stylish genre mash-up explores how a young Muslim rapper and social media star becomes radicalized into leaving his native Belgium and traveling to Syria to fight for ISIS.