The Devil You Know – Keeping your brother

Charles Murray?s The Devil You Know openly invokes the biblical story of Cain and Abel to consider what it means to be one?s brother?s keeper. It is the story of a close-knit family that faces being torn apart by the struggle between brothers about truth and secrets. To what extent should family be a trump over doing what is right?

While the Cowan family is gathering for dinner, Marcus (Omer Epps) is late because he?s at a Twelve-Step meeting. Marcus has struggled with his sobriety, but is beginning to get his life together. He?s done a stretch in prison, but now he has a new job as a bus driver, and is hopeful that things will begin to improve. And indeed, they do start getting better when he finally gets to dinner and meets Eva (Erika Tazel), a nurse with whom he finds a chance for relationship.

A few months later, Marcus discovers evidence that his brother Drew (William Catlett) may have been involved in a violent and well-publicized home-invasion robbery and murder (which we see in the film?s prologue). The life he has been building is based on honesty and integrity, but this discovery puts a strain on him. Should he protect his brother, or is it more important for justice to be served? Of course, Marcus knows from experience that the justice system is not a friendly environment, especially for young black men.

But soon Drew comes to the attention of Joe McDonald (Michael Ealy), the detective working the case. The family also faces repercussions from the others involved in the home-invasion. The strain puts the family patriarch in the hospital. Marcus is trying to do the best for his brother and all the family, but how far should he go to protect his brother? The stress that Marcus faces could pull down the good life he has been building.

The Cain and Abel story (which can be found in Genesis 4) has been the basis of many stories that grow out of the sibling relationship. The key main attraction is often Cain?s answer to God when question about Abel?s death: ?Am I my brother?s keeper?? I have always read that response as Cain smarting off. But that question is really one of the key foundations of ethics (especially of biblical ethics). It calls us to consider what responsibility we have, and how far that responsibility reaches.

When I watched the film and the title cards came up at the end citing two verses from the Cain and Abel story, my first thought was that the Cain and Abel story didn?t really fit with the film. Marcus is not at all like Cain. He does not want to harm his brother. Indeed, he works hard at keeping his brother out of trouble. But on further consideration, I?ve come to see that Marcus?s struggle is very rooted in the Cain and Abel story in that his responsibilities are about more than just his brother and family. For Marcus to be able to live with himself and to claim the life before him requires him to do what is right in a wider sense. In this case, who is the brother is really the question.

The Devil You Know is in select theaters.

Photos courtesy of Lionsgate.

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