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With: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif, Hichem Yacoubi, Gilles Cohen, Salem Kali, Pascal Henault, Reda Kateb, Jean-Philippe Ricci, Jean-Emmanuel Pagni
Written by: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit
Directed by: Jacques Audiard
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language and drug material
Language: French, Arabic, Corsican, with English subtitles
Running Time: 150
Date: 05/16/2009

A Prophet (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

What Jail Is Like

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This Oscar nominated film from France is a well-made gangster tale with parallels to Brian De Palma's Scarface, but is it really better than Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours?

It stars Tahar Rahim as Malik El Djebena, an illiterate teenager who goes to prison for six years. The Corsican mob, led by C├ęsar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), sees him as expendable and taps him to murder an important prisoner called Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi). Malik pulls off the murder and becomes an unofficial member of their powerful clique.

Over the years, his confidence and craftiness grow and he begins engineering his own schemes, even building a drug-running business and using his new contacts for leverage.

Directed by Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped), the film stays focused on Malik for almost every shot. It prefers gritty realism, with the notable exception Reyeb's "ghost," which continues to haunt Malik, appearing in his prison cell and commenting upon his situation. Occasionally title cards appear as well, deliberately interrupting the flow, and creating a kind of knowing, off-kilter mood.

The very long film has a couple of soapbox issues surrounding the treatment of Arabs and Muslims in French society, as well as the corrupting (rather than redeeming) powers of prison, and it could be too big for its britches. But aside from all that, and at its center, A Prophet is an undeniably effective and engrossing crime picture.

The talented Alexandre Desplat provided the music score.

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