| High praise is well-deserved for this crime drama that is the French equivalent of “The Godfather” in many respects. It takes place largely within prison walls and is a class above “The Shawshank Redemption.”
The movie is a character study of Malik El Djebena (newcomer Tahar Rahim), a 19-year-old Arab estranged from the Muslim community. He is found guilty of attacking police and receives a six-year prison sentence.
Corsican crime boss Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrups) offers Malik protection if he will kill Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), a fellow Arab prisoner who plans to testify against the mob. An extended bloody scene involving a razor blade hidden inside Malik’s cheek sets everything in motion.
Malik rises in the ranks and becomes Luciani’s eyes and ears both inside and outside the prison walls. Malik learns the value of self-reliance. He makes an astounding transformation from an illiterate, naïve juvenile delinquent to a streetwise kingpin fluent in three languages. This maturation process is just one of the movie’s innumerable strengths.
Director and co-screenwriter Jacques Audiard (“Read My Lips”) offers an accurate depiction of what goes on in the French prison system. The omnipresent camera always is in the right place. The sound effects and the production design are top drawer.
The title of the movie reflects the moniker given to Malik after he warns the driver of a car to watch out for deer crossing the road and averts a bizarre collision. He had a vision of this event before it actually happened in a fantasy dream sequence.
The gripping story holds your interest despite a running time of more than 2½ hours. It introduces you to a host of unsavory characters as Malik learns how to play all sides to get ahead in a lucrative drug ring. The movie is exciting and weaves an elaborate maze of unpredictability. The fabulous performance by Rahim will stay with you long after the lights come up.
World Soundtrack’s 2009 composer of the year Alexandre Desplat (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Coco Before Chanel”) adds another memorable score of original music to his resume. The closing song “Mack the Knife” perfectly sums up this epic cinematic experience.
“A Prophet” was named the Best Foreign Language Film of 2009 by the National Board of Review. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the BAFTA Film Award for Best Film not in the English language. After being nominated for 13 Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscar), it took home wins in nine categories including best film, director, cinematography, original writing, editing and production design. It was also nominated in the foreign film category at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Independent Spirit Awards.
The dialogue is in French with English subtitles. Opening exclusively at the Tivoli and the Rio in Overland Park.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"