Sundance 2010 Review: A PROPHET (UN PROPHETE)

James Wallace

by: James Wallace
January 24th, 2010

Score: 8.5/10

Writers:Thomas Bidegain (screenplay), Jacques Audiard (screenplay)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup

A PROPHET tells the tale of Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), an 18 year old French Muslim given six years in prison for assaulting a police officer. Once in, the vulnerable young man is preyed upon by mafia kingpin César Luciani (Niels Arestrup), who rules the prison with an iron fist and controls it with firm grip.

The boy soon becomes a man, as he is weathered by the hard life of hard time, fulfilling every bidding given to him by César. He becomes his errand boy, his attack dog, and his workhorse. And in the process, El Djebena is transformed into his own monster, as he begins to run his own game on the side. What follows is a story filled with murder, violence, drugs, religion, and racism, subsequently creating once of the best crime/prison films in the genre’s recent history.

Being no stranger to the crime genre, director Audiard applies a vintage, cinema verite styling to what feels like a British crime film with a French sensibility. But this is more than just your run of the mill prison tale. The film is as layered as it is gritty. Deep as it is violent. And heavy as it is…well, heavy.

If it’s Guy Ritchie you’re looking for, then you’re in the wrong cell block here. As much as A PROPHET is a crime film – and a fantastic one at that – the prison is only a framework for the film’s real message of human nature at its worse. To turn your back on your religion, reaching the point when morals cease to exist as to do whatever you can to survive. And it does so with intense emotion, and action, where the gun shots are as loud and piercing as its commentary.

As a side note, the film does have a major fault in that it runs a little long at 155 minutes, eventually wearing thin on the tension it unfolds so well in the first and second act of the film. It does keep you on the edge of your seat, feeling that every moment could lead to a character’s untimely demise via shanking, but unfortunately you just get to the point where you want them to get shanked and get it over with. Luckily, the film, like its main character, is redeemed in the end.

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