Directed by: Jacques Audiard || Produced by: Martine Cassinelli, Antonin Dedet
Screenplay by: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit || Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Reda Kateb, Hichem Yacoubi, Jean-Philippe Ricci, Gilles Cohen
Music by: Alexandre Desplat || Cinematography: Stephane Fontaine || Editing by: Juliette Welfling || Country: France, Italy || Language: French, Arabic, Corsican
Running Time: 150 minutes
More or less a required viewing for gangster film-enthusiasts, Jacques Audiard’s Un Prophete (A Prophet) is an engrossing tale following the 6-year prison stay of one Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim), a small-time criminal who ironically finds a larger career in crime by the end of the film. The atmosphere and tone of the film are fantastic. The danger of the prison is haunting and all-encompassing, building a sense of dread at every turn. Each character is menacing in their own right, and all have a surprising amount of depth to them. There are few weakness in this film. Though its episodic nature wears a bit by the film’s conclusion, A Prophet is an intriguing analysis of prison-life and social mobility.
A Prophet tells the story of an underprivileged youth who finds more opportunity to succeed and express himself in prison than he ever did as a free man. It is both interesting and refreshing that Audiard does this without hitting us over the head with some heavy-handed message about prejudice or racism, instead focusing on the story of his lead character, letting Rahim introduce us to his new world and life -experiences so that we can draw our own conclusions. This film shows, but doesn’t tell.
The first thirty minutes of A Prophet will floor you. Rahim’s character is thrown to the wolves right from the start and left to fend for himself inside a hellish, terrifying environment. Within ten minutes or so, the scared and bewildered Rahim is confronted with an ultimatum: Murder a rival faction member of the Corsican gang, or be killed by the Corsican thugs themselves. And you thought deciding which fabric softener to pick out was a tough decision.
The remainder of the film, admittedly, can’t match the opening half hour of intense violence and terror. If it did, A Prophet would be well on its way to becoming the newest hallmark of the crime drama. As it stands, the main strength of the film is how fascinating Rahim’s transformormation is, from a confused, frightened small-timer into a formidable, strong-willed, and cunning gangster. The story progresses in such a way that illustrates how, in a manner not unlike transitioning into a new high school or college, Rahim slowly but surely learns the ropes of the prison-world and organized crime. The best gangster films have always concerned players out-thinking, rather than outgunning, each other, with the smartest and savviest characters coming out on top.
A Prophet embraces this mindset, though its narrative structure lacks the subtle and charismatic nuance of the genre’s all-time greats. Much of the film’s story also feels disjointed and random, making some of our hero’s growth hard to follow. A related weakness is the movie’s 2.5 hour run-time, which, combined with the non-traditional narrative format, feels overextended by the end of the film. Most every scene in the movie is a joy to watch on its own, but not all of them are, and large portions of the story could’ve been excised or abbreviated and not made a significant difference to the final project. Put another way, the film’s narrative progression feels much like an entire television season condensed into 150 minutes, whereby each set-piece is connected by a cinematic, “and then, and then, and then, and then!” … transition.
The movie’s narrative loses steam after its haymaker opening as a function of this structure, but the direction, minor characters, and music are excellent throughout the entire running-time. Song-selection and placement are particularly strong, reminding me of the effective soundtracks of many of Tarantino’s films. Stylish montage sequences and charismatic editing, combined with a memorable soundtrack, hold this rapid-fire story together.
All things considered, A Prophet is a hell of a ride, reminding us that the crime drama still has plenty to offer in this day and age. Audiard gives us a myriad of characters that act and feel like real people. Most, if not all of them, are despicable and cruel in their own ways, but that just makes it all the more sublime that we are fascinated by them and root for Rahim’s Malik to come out on top.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: A Prophet bursts out of the gate swinging and leaves a trail of blood, guts, and sheer intensity in its wake. Tahar Rahim puts on a stellar performance from start to finish, and his role is further bolstered by great montage sequences and a strong musical selection.
— However… the remainder of the film can’t help but feel underwhelming after its powerhouse introduction, mostly due to the story’s episodic nature and considerable length.
? France must have great food indeed if all its violent criminals get tasty loaves of fresh bread on a daily basis.