Malik is a 19 year-old Arab born in France. A career criminal, he’s now graduated from juvenile facilities to the real deal.
Malik is housed in a cell close to a snitch. Cesar, leader of the Corsicans that run the prison and its guards, orders him to kill the man — or else. Malik becomes Cesar’s go-fer and eventually is let out of the prison occasionally to do errands for Cesar and the Mafia.
The Corsicans don’t really like him, but he has value. Arab prisoners shun him. The proverbial no-man’s land gives Malik a unique education and us an unique film experience.
A Prophet hasn’t been circulating much. It opened in major markets at the end of 2009 and has been in a few theaters in the bigger cities since. Some smaller markets are now being opened up. Tri-Cities is one of the first.
The patient storytelling of director Jacques Audiard makes A Prophet one of the best films of 2009. Audiard’s ability to draw out a character is helped by two standout performances.
Tahar Rahim is Malik. He struggles with guilt and ghosts, non-acceptance by his own people and trying to find his peace on his own terms in a very negative universe.
Veteran Niels Arestrup plays his nemesis, Cesar. Arestrup’s underplaying of the character not only makes him believable but also more terrifying.
We’re used to Hollywood’s version of prison. Every possible plot premise has been done a dozen times. Most are polished productions where even grimy conditions seem pristine. A Prophet is France’s submission for the 2009 Academy Award for best foreign film. It breaks the mold. Not entirely, but enough to make it worthy of the submission.
Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars
Rated R for violence, language, mature themes, nudity. It opens Friday, April 30 at the Carmike 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.