A Prophet Review: The Future’s Bright
A PROPHET: On General Release from Friday 22nd January 2010
A Prophet is a wonderfully written and brilliantly directed French epic and thanks to a blistering performance by newcomer Tahar Rahim, despite its 150 minute length, this film will fly by and seems certain to be regarded as one of the year’s best.
Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is a young French-Arab sentenced to a six year stint in a brutal jail. He decides that it would be best to try to keep his nose clean and avoid trouble but his good intentions are quickly ruined when a Corsican gang leader, Luciani (Niels Arestup), chooses him to murder a fellow inmate (Hichem Yacoubi)
Luciani’s control of the prison from the inside allows Malik to get away with his crime and he soon becomes the group’s dogsbody, constantly stepped on by his Corsican superiors.
As time goes by Malik educates himself in the prison’s school system and through careful observation and ruthlessness is able to build a drug smuggling trade outside the jail, all the while seemingly doing the dirty work for Luciani and his goons.
Tahar Rahim is fantastic as Malik, a character initially bewildered by the world he’s thrown into, a deer in the headlights of organised crime. But as the film progresses, we see his character develop from frightened errand boy to ruthless taskmaster.
Niels Arestrup is excellent as his uncompromising boss Luciani, at first seeming to extend a paternal wing to Malik but then showing his true colours as manipulator and strategist. Some of the best support comes from Hichem Yacoubi, the inmate he’s first ordered to kill who appears as an apparition to Malik – a horrific gash in his neck serves as a visceral reminder of Malik’s sordid deed.
The direction by Jacques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) is tight and keeps the suspense palpable and constant. Danger lurks around every corner for Malik and you’re constantly aware that if he puts one foot wrong, the results would be catastrophic.
It’s testament to Audiard’s direction that he makes Malik a sympathetic character, reluctantly drawn into a brutal world but then having no choice but to sink or swim. It becomes impossible not to root for him as he pulls off some of his deals, desperate to escape from under the thumb of Luciani with the threat of severe punishment constantly hanging over his head.
The length shouldn’t frighten people. It clocks in at a weighty two and a half hours but it never flags and it’s constantly absorbing.
With its depiction of the rise and fall of power and its connection to organised crime, comparisons to The Godfather are inevitable but actually no bad thing; Malik’s rise from lowly nobody to powerful burgeoning overlord is certainly worthy of the Coppola trilogy and A Prophet deserves all the adulation it gets.
Check out our interview with the star of A Prophet, rising star Tahar Rahim here.