A Prophet (French, 2009)

3/1/11

A Masterpiece Crime / Gangster Films on par with Scorsese.

You know, there are a lot of foreign films here in our review section, such as this French movie, "A Prophet.' And...I'll be honest, even though there are a lot of foreign films we review (maybe 75%??)...I'm actually really not particularly crazy about foreign flicks. I mean, they're great alright. But who wants to relax on a Friday night "reading' a movie. So admittedly, I go for English whenever I can. It's as if I don't seek out Foreign films but they seek me out instead.

Anyway...just so you know, that's one of our missions we have in our Film reviews. These are "Uncommon Films for the Uncommon Cinefile' that might have snuck under the radar. And we'd love for these movies to seek you out too.

So with that being said, it's a good thing, as "A Prophet' found it's way to me. It's right up there with any crime / prison movie be it "Goodfellas,' "Shawshank Redemption,' "Gomorrah' or even a less well known foreign trilogy "The Pusher' series (also reviewed and highly recommend in our).

Directed by Jacques Audiard, "A Prophet' (in French: Un prophète) is more than the usual prison movie; it's also a drama that taps on the issues of innocence, guilt, ethnicity, and individuality. It's relentlessly brutal and aggressive but not in a typical way. Despite the prison violence it inescapably depicts, this movie still manages to develop important character roles that are neither too cliched nor so outlandish that the audience cannot connect with them.

I must say that Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) so suitably and perfectly plays the evolution of a 19-year-old prison newcomer to an eventual merciless killer. We may differ with his choices, but we can relate with him one way or another.

And instead of throwing everything at you to grab your attention, "A Prophet' is painstakingly layered in such a way that you can have a deep look inside a man's journey to self discovery.

The characters' acting performances in this French movie are also flawlessly raw and effective. Even though this is a long film (around 2 hours, you won't notice the time because the actors and story are so engaging.

If you're a fan of the crime/thriller/gangster genre, or simply tired of overrated Hollywood movies (Hmm, there are quite a few these days?), "A Prophet' just might earn a spot in your new favorites.

Synopsis

Nineteen-year-old French-Arab, Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is sentenced to six years for assaulting police enforcers and thrown into the concrete hell of Brécourt French prison. While he has spent most of his life in juvenile confinement, this is his first term in an adult jail.

Illiterate, alone, and broke, Malik finds himself defenseless in a world of violence and bribery dominated by the Corsican and Muslim mobster inmates. He has zero friends or foes inside, and just wishes to complete his jail time as trouble-free and peacefully as possible.

Malik reluctantly succumbs to the custody of the Corsican head, César Luciani (Niels Arestrup), where Malik is introduced to a brutal way of living. As the years go by, he gains the trust and confidence of the Corsican gang, which consequently skyrockets his status within the prison.

While there, he also befriends Ryad (Adel Bencherif), who teaches him to read and write. Soon Malik maximizes his ingenuity to inconspicuously set-up his very own network, while mapping out his life after prison. Malik further propels his influence outside the penitentiary walls by engaging in drug related activities, hostage runs, and vicious assassinations. And while at first just an amateur felon, Malik is quickly on his way to run his own criminal kingdom.