Early on, it seems like A PROPHET is just going to be another prison film, with Malik being the fresh-faced new fish taken under the wing of a veteran, fatherly prisoner. Luckily, Malik turns out to be a far more complicated protagonist than we usually get in films like this. Malik is no one’s bitch, but he’s happy to bide his time, and play manservant for Luciani, especially once the Corsican don’s associates are sent back to Corsica due to a new law passed by Sarkozy’s government. Having no one else to turn to, Malik makes the perfect associate, as he’s seemingly simple-minded, and easy to please with a couple of prison luxuries, such as a TV/DVD player in his cell. However, Malik’s got way more going on behind Luciani’s back than he can imagine, with the initially illiterate Malik not only learning to read and write, but also studying Corsican, and establishing relationships with key figures in the Arabic mob, that’s steadily taking over the prison in both numbers, and prestige.
In the lead, Tahar Rahim’s incredible. Over the 150 minute runtime, Malik goes from being a scared youngster to a Michael Corleone-like crime boss, and Rahim’s never anything less that 100 % convincing. As his malevolent mentor, who at one point almost blinds his young protégé with a spoon, Niels Arestrup is similarly excellent, although his progression is the exact opposite of Rahim’s, as he goes from being as ice cold crime boss, to being a frightened old man.
A PROPHET is directed by Jacques Audiard, whose THE BEAT MY HEART SKIPPED (a remake of James Toback's FINGERS) was widely acclaimed a few years ago. For the most part, he films A PROPHET in a serious, documentary like fashion. However, he also includes a couple of surreal, supernatural touches, with Malik’s first victim, popping up throughout the film to give Malik guidance, giving the character a sixth sense that serves him well during a particularly violent confrontation near the end of the film.