"A Prophet (Un Prophete)" Movie Review (2010)

3/01/2010 Posted by Admin

Movie Review

"A Prophet" (Un Prophete)

Directed by Jacques Audiard, Written by Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri, and Nicolas Peufaillit, 150 minutes, Rated R

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

"A Prophet" is a story that could be very simplistic and typical were it not for its extremely well-drawn characters, who are so real and interesting that this small-scale story is made into a true epic, just as powerful as its predecessors, such as "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas."

Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), a French Arab, is illiterate and without friends or family when he is sentenced to six years in prison. Not quite accepted by the Arabs because he's not a Muslim and discrimated against by most other groups, he's manipulated by Corsican Mafioso Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup) into doing grunt work in exchange for protection. Trapped and more alone than ever, Malik finds himself in a downward spiral of violence and prejudice, until he befriends a prisoner-turned-teacher Ryad (Adel Bencherif) and starts making his own money and connections. Before long, Luciani realizes Malik may be a force he shouldn't have reckoned with.

Director Jacques Audiard made the film with the intention of representing French Arabs, which he felt had no previous place in French cinema. "A Prophet" definitely works on that level, and the discrimination felt between Arabs and the rest of the ethnic groups is portrayed subtly and effectively. But this is definitely more of a personal story than a political one, and the rise of Malik El Djebena is the strongest crime character study since "The Godfather: Part II." This is especially due to Rahim's incredible performance, which also is his first major role.

Though there are segments that take place outside of prison, we view the majority of Malik's life from inside, and throughout the film we get very used to the environent. The world of a prison cell is less depressing or terrifying as it is often conveyed and more an inspiration for Malik to rise above those around him and escape, and it's less a literal escape and more a symolic one. He lives six long years in that cell, but by triumphing over the criminals he lives among, he can make himself better than them. Often we see prison as a terrible place where rehabilitation is more a pipe dream than a possibility, but here we see one man truly transcend the filth and build a better life for himself.

Audiard definitely takes some cues from Scorsese and Coppola with his style, especially in his use of strong violence in overtly stylistic ways, but the film is never excessive or glorifying. However, this story is definitely a much different kind of story than the crime films of Scorsese and the like. Where many modern filmmakers use the crime genre as a means to explore the tragic side of ambition ("Blow," both "Godfather" films) this film is more like "City of God" in its portrayal of a man using crime as a means to an end, not as an easy way out. As Malik says at one point in the film when asked who he works for, "I work for no one. I work for myself." He doesn't answer to corrupt crime bosses or petty drug dealers. He cares about his friends, and he has a moral compass those he lives among clearly don't.

"A Prophet" is one of the five nominees for this year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and if it didn't have such stiff competition in Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon," I'd say it's the definite winner. It's by far one of the best crime films of the past decade, and one of the most powerful films to come out of 2009.

Grade: A

View the movie trailer for "A Prophet" below. What are your thoughts?

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