Originally Reviewed – 3/21/2010
Sometimes it’s best to simply write a review, be as objective as possible and call it day. If your buddy wants to see Couples Retreat despite your best efforts to dissuade him, that’s on him. However, this time around I actually want people to listen for once. Take heed and do as I say. Go out right now and see A Prophet. I’m talking right this bloody minute. Why? Because it’s probably the best film out right now that nobody is going to see.
Directed by Jacques Audiard and starring the fantastic first timer Tahar Rahim, A Prophet is the story of an illiterate 16 year old kid who is arrested and sentenced to 6 years in prison. While in jail, he has to use his wits and drive to navigate the world of prison, eventually working his way to being the right hand man of the “boss” of the jail, played by the unbelievably good Niels Arestrup.
First things first, Rahim is exquisite in the lead role as Malik. Despite the fact his character is an actual criminal, you instantly feel for his situation and predicament. Rahim plays his character in an honest, unfettered way that seems effortless. Props also go out to Arestrup as the inmate leader of the prison as his character is the polar opposite of Rahim and it’s this combination of the ruthless leader and the relative innocence of Malik that gives the film its balance.
The film is also wonderfully directed in that you get a little bit of everything. While the film does take place in a prison and there are some intensely graphic moments, the film isn’t all tension and violence. The film also allows for humor and compassion while never feeling forced or trite. The story is also brilliantly written, weaving three different groups of prison gangs and how Malik gets his paws in each one. One of the biggest hurdles to jump in this film is that it’s in a number of languages with English subtitles throughout, and while it can be distracting to have to read the dialogue and connect with the actors, A Prophet works just as well in subtitles as it would if you spoke French, so don’t let the subtitles dissuade you from seeing it.
Not surprisingly, A Prophet has garnered itself its fair share of awards and accolades. The film was the French submission for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars (should have won but whatever) and nabbed itself a Grand Prix prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Critically it has been unanimously lauded and for good reason. Still, that don’t mean a hill of beans when it comes to box office receipts, where this movie has yet to gross a million bucks. Sad, sad, sad considering this is one of the finest films I’ve seen this year and a must see if it’s playing in your local arthouse cinema. Many critics have called A Prophet the French Godfather and while it doesn’t quite live up to that classic, it’s definitely playing the same game.
Score – 90%