“In exchange I offer you protection; If you don’t kill him, I’ll kill you.” Jacques Audiard directs this great French prison film, A Prophet (Un Prophete), which is perhaps the best gangster movie I’ve seen since The Goodfellas. It has some great scenes combining violent action sequences with a character driven plot. Audiard has created a masterpiece; the entire film takes place mostly in the prison and he worked with ex-convicts in order to set the right mood.
A Prophet was nominated for Best Foreign Film in the Oscars and lost to the Argentinean movie, El Secreto de Sus Ojos, which was also a great character driven film. Audiard not only directed the film, but he also co-wrote the adaptation of the script along with Thomas Bidegain. It is an interesting character study on how an innocent man gets involved with the wrong people and becomes entangled in a life of crime. There is something symbolic about his illiteracy as he learns how to read in prison, and he also learns how the mob works by serving and getting involved with them, therefore the prison became his school both in a positive and negative way. When I watched this movie I couldn’t help but compare several scenes with such classic movies as Scarface, The Godfather and The Goodfellas. This movie does have its flaws, for instance, women are depicted poorly as the few female characters are either prostitutes or weak minded, but the story makes up for it along with the lead actors who give terrific performances.
A nineteen year old Franco-Arab, named Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), has just been sent to prison for six years in Brecourt for assaulting a police officer. He is alone in prison without any friends and has to learn how to survive. At first he tries to stay in the down low, but solitary convicts are the easiest prey. The prisoners are divided in two groups, the Muslims on the one hand and the Corsicans, who seem to be in control of the prison because they have several connections with the guards, on the other.
Malik is an Arab, but he doesn’t practice their religion so he doesn’t seem to fit with the Muslims and he isn’t Corsican either. Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup) is the leader of the Corsicans inside the prison and after a new Arab prisoner arrives who happens to be a key witness against one of them, Cesar has to find a way of killing him before the trial. The problem is that since he is an Arab he can’t get to close to him and therefore realizes that Malik is the right person for the job. The Corsicans force Malik to kill him and offer protection in return, although Malik doesn’t really have an option because if he doesn’t comply they will kill him. Malik, despite being an Arab, begins serving the Corsicans and little by little wins the confidence of Cesar, although he is seen by the rest of the mobsters as a dirty Arab. Malik begins learning how to read and befriends his teacher, Ryad (Adel Bencherif), and at the same time he begins learning Corsican and the mobster lifestyle. Little by little Malik begins to learn more about criminal life and slowly begins to rise. He is not the same person he was when he arrived at the prison.
A Prophet has a very interesting plot, but it works in the most part because of the great performances given by the lead actors Tahir Rahim and Niels Arestrup who are just outstanding and very believable in their roles. The success of a character driven movie depends most of the time on the actors, and newcomer Tahir Rahim gives an Oscar worthy performance. The movie is about two and a half hours long and requires your full attention because of the parallel action sequences, but the movie doesn’t seem to drag at any point and it never gets to a point where you begin to lose interest. A Prophet is an excellent film and one you will enjoy. It is definitely worth your time so I recommend you guys. Check this movie out