A Prophet (Un prophete) Reviews
This film is mediocre Martin Scorsese -- wait, it's not directed by Scorsese? Shocking! Then I guess this film is mediocre imitation Scorsese. It dark, depressing, virile, and remarkably violent. I make the Scorsese joke because films like Goodfellas and Casino achieve an impossible ethical feat: they make being a mobster seem cool; they make us say, "Gee, if I were a mobster, I'd be that cool, dressing in sherbet-colored suits." And A Prophet wants us to make the same type of ethical leap: they want us to sympathize with a character who goes through a profound ethical transformation from doe-eyed innocent to cold-blooded killer. But unlike the charming Ace Rothstein, Malik doesn't inspire, intrigue, or charm.
The film's portrayal of Muslim fundamentalism doesn't get a lot of traction and its aim isn't that clear to me.
Overall, Scorsese has done better - wait, are you sure he didn't direct this?
As small-time teen crim Malik, Tahar Rahim shifts from wary tough-nut to keen student to aloof enigma in the furrow of a brow. It's a masterful performance but it has to be, as Audiard's roving camera never leaves him. Regarded as a dirty Arab by the Corsican cons and a greasy Corsican by the Arab inmates, Malik is our guide through the nightmare labyrinth of the French penal system and its network of warring tribes.
Characters introduced with chapterised freeze-frames and cool intertitles are passed over or forgotten about (most unforgivably, fellow inmate Reyeb himself), while bigger ideas like Malik's ability to see into the future (the prophecies of the title) and his status as a hero within the narrative just seem confused.
This film isn't about plot though, but is instead a character study which gets into the heads of the characters, and also explores the French prison system, and the dynamics between the ethnic groups housed within, specifically the two main factions: the Corsicans (the long time power holders among the prisoners), and the Muslims, the up and comers.
The film's protagonist Malik is Arab, and when he enters prison, he is 19 and iliterate. He becomes a pawn of the Corsican leader, but soon gets his own plan into motion. The film pretty much sticks to reality ,save for some odd scenes where Malik is visited by the ghost of a guy he was forced to kill. These scenes arwen't bad, but with the way they are handled, they aren't really used to their full potential, and seem like they'd be better off cut out of things.
I liked how, even though familiar beats are hit, the film isn't completely formulaic or predictable. Also, there's some really interesting (and cool) music selections. The cinematography is good too. This film though, is all about the characters, so the performances are where it's really at. Tahar Rahim is great as Malik, and he brings a quiet intenisty and intriguing enigmaticness to things. Niels Arestrup is strong as the brutal, intense Corsican leader, and supporting players like Adel Bencherif are good too.
At roughly 155 minutes, and with a pretty deliberate pace, this film is not for the fidgety. There's violence yes, but this isn't an exploitation film, so it's not wall to wall with it, although it is very graphic and realistic when it comes up. I liked that thios film touched upon the dynamic of ethnic/race relations, and it's cool seeing the penal system of a foreign country, but I wanted more of the former, and am unsure as to how realistically ortrayed the latter is. Still though, this is all some very good stuff, even if the film is merely just really good instead of the masterpiece that some have heralded it to be.
Possibly worth watching twice to make sure the whole story has been digested, but certainly one of the best Prison Dramas ever.
Sent down for six years for an unspecified crime, illiterate French-Arab teen Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is initiated into the prison's criminal underworld. A fast learner, he soon starts to plot his rapid ascendancy through the violent and brutal hierarchy of his fellow inmates to become a formidable player and slowly builds a criminal empire of his own.
This is an unrelenting and savage look at the French penal system and the visciousness involved in just getting through each day. Hardly ever off screen, it boasts an excellent and charismatic lead performance from Tahar Rahim as the young inauspicious protaganist. He's entirely convincing in his tranformation and growth from nervous petty criminal to confident and brutal mastermind and is aided with fine support from Niels Arestrup as his menacing patriarchal boss. The problem I found with it though, was it's length. At well over 2 hours, the rigourousness is relentless and despite it magnificently capturing the grim surroundings of the prison, it utimately is confined - for most of the film - like it's characters and unable to offer anything new from it's concrete hell, that hasn't already been done before. I also struggled to see the point of Malik's prophetic gift. It gave no explanation for his sporadic prophetic visions and added very little to the story - despite it also assuming the title of the film. It could quite easily have been left out altogether. However, these are minor gripes and I probably wouldn't mention them if this film wasn't being hailed as a masterpiece. It's not, but it's still a film of real quality and packed full of tense, dangerous and claustraphobic moments.
Despite feeling like I was doing a little time myself towards the end, this is still a very accomplished and ferocious crime film.
My other reservation with A Prophet is with Malik himself. He's a complete charismatic black hole. Though he isn't necessarily without personality characteristics, as evidenced by a subtle drive to learn and improve and a not-no-subtle mean streak, his stylistic illiteracy doesn't really seem to jive with the occasional artsy flourishes of the rest of the film. The viewer's eye strays toward the politics of the prison versus the young boy maneuvering through them, simply because the former is that much more alive. Malik's a boring man, which is mostly a curse, but also creates some interesting tensions throughout the film. His lack of character is an intentional choice meant to supplant him into the ranks of the Corsicans to move the plot forward. Seen but not heard, his implied promotions from "errand bitch" to "drug runner" to "honorary Corsican kingpin" feel surprisingly organic, largely because he barely seems aware of them himself, let alone enough to comment on them. Tahar Rahim's performance is great, not self-congratulatory and modest to his castmates; he throws just enough illumination on his very few vulnerable or clever moments, not overdoing or underdoing them. He's a very conscientious, smart actor, and really the reason why this character isn't a complete failure. I think he could have been more interesting, but through no fault of Rahim's own.
Frankly, that's how I feel about the whole movie - it's a more-than-competent treatment of material that doesn't always shine. Perhaps I was expecting something a little more original, or even something more formally unusual, but what I got was a rock-solid prison flick. Not a versatile genre, but I can recognize its value; honestly, though, there's nothing here that The Shawshank Redemption didn't cover, albeit in a more squeaky-clean sort of way. They're both worth seeing, but I think that with every incarceration tale I watch the limits of the genre become more and more evident.
characteristic prison movie conventions - the racial divides, the brutal conditions, the violent clashes - and French film "A Prophet" has all of those.
But over the next 2 hours, "A Prophet" doesn't concern itself with educating about prison life, instead it's a gripping account of the streetwise savviness of Arab Malik El Djebena as he becomes an integral part of the Arab-hating Corsican mafia due to his completion of a violent assignment for them. During the course of Malik's stay in prison, he is reborn and transforms himself into an educated and influential figure. His journey there is a gripping and remarkable one - and makes "A Prophet" terrific.
When the onus of a film's success hinges on the journey of one character it's crucial to get an actor up to the task and Tahar Rahim is a revelation. Rahim's presence commands attention and his superb portrayal draws you in and doesn't let go.
"A Prophet" is a marvelous tale of survival and growth with realistic depictions of violent, racially-charged life in prison. This Academy Award nominee is worthy.