Review: A Prophet
PLOT: A young Arab, Malik (Tahar Rahim) is sentenced to six years in prison. Barely nineteen, and isolated from his Arabic brethren due to his lack of religious convictions, young Malik is easy prey for Luciani (Niels Arestrup), the head of a Corsican Mafia group that runs the prison. Malik is forced to carry-out a hit against another Arabic prisoner, whos about to turn informant. After successfully completing the job, Maliks allowed to run various simple errands for the group, but Malik has ambitions beyond being an errand boy
REVIEW: A PROPHET is one of the films nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year. While I havent seen any of the other nominated films, Id have a hard time believing any of them was better than A PROPHET, which just might be a modern crime masterpiece.
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 ones bitch, but hes happy to bide his time, and play manservant for Luciani, especially once the Corsican dons associates are sent back to Corsica due to a new law passed by Sarkozys government.
Having no one else to turn to, Malik makes the perfect associate, as hes seemingly simple-minded, and easy to please with a couple of prison luxuries, such as a TV/DVD player in his cell. However, Maliks got way more going on behind Lucianis 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, thats steadily taking over the prison in both numbers, and prestige.
In the lead, Tahar Rahims incredible. Over the 150 minute runtime, Malik goes from being a scared youngster to a Michael Corleone-like crime boss, and Rahims 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 Rahims, 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 as widely acclaimed a few years ago. While I never got a chance to see that film, I think Im going to have to hit the video store this week, as Audiards direction of A PROPHET is masterful. 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 Maliks 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.
I really cant praise A PROPHET enough, as its truly an incredible crime saga, comparable to a similarly great gangster flick I saw at Sundance, ANIMAL KINGDOM (actually, A PROPHET also played Sundance, but I missed it). Its fantastic, and if youre lucky enough to have it open at a theater near you, I highly recommend checking it out.