Nominated for Best Foreign Language Picture at this year's Academy Awards, Jacques Audiard's A Prophet (Un prophète), about a young Arab man who is sentenced to six years in prison, is a moving, enthralling piece of work that wholeheartedly delivers on its promise of crime, drama and suspense.
Tahar Rahim delivers a powerful performance as Malik, a young non-Muslim Arab who finds himself torn between the Muslim contingent and the Corsican mafia. He sides with the mob under the leadership of sadistic César Luciani, who uses Malik to take advantage of his Arab heritage to murder a Muslim snitch. Malik quickly rises through the ranks of inmates, though as his Coriscan protectors become less necessary to his survival, he vows to kill Luciani.
Rahim's performance is never overpowering, and yet he finds that perfect balance of innocence, naivety, emotion and methodical, calculated instinct. He isn't stupid and aspires for a better life, and while he doesn't like doing some of the things he does he seems content with a life of crime. He is likable and the protagonist, and yet by the end he is a hardened criminal that audiences wouldn't typically appreciate. This is no Shawshank Redemption, but Rahim manages to win our appreciation nonetheless.
Niels Arestrup also delivers an underrated performance. His portrayal of Luciani, a man who rules by fear and violence, is pitch perfect. Strangely, as his empire and influence begin to wane, Arestrup manages to exude through Luciani a unique and touching sense of sadness; the character is proud and has no regrets, and yet by the end he's just a scared, old man with no friends or protection.
A Prophet is superbly written and directed. It paints a broad and yet intimate view of French prison life and the complicated relationships that occur within. It's dramatic, but it's also a crime story; Audiard manages to interweave a complex array of suspense, action and murder into his tale, despite the seemingly limited confines of the prison walls.
A Prophet is one of the best movies of the year and one of the best crime dramas in a decade.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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