A Prophet | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

A Prophet 

Criminal Education: A Prophet tells a bitter, riveting prison story.

Pin It
Favorite
A Prophet
  • A Prophet

We never learn why 19-year-old Malik (newcomer Tahar Rahim) has been sentenced to six years in a French prison. But as he begins his stretch in Jacques Audiard’s harrowing and sharply ironic rags-to-criminal-riches tale A Prophet (a 2009 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language film), we can guess that it’s for no terrible misdeed. He’s so meek a fellow that his sneakers are quickly stolen right off his feet during his first venture into the exercise yard, and he is easy pickings for Corsican mafioso César Luciani (Niels Arestrup), who sees in the half-Arab Malik the perfect figure to help him bring down a rival Muslim gang.

The notion that what prisons are best at is turning out better criminals is Audiard’s thesis, and he shows us through his keen eye how a smart but untrained mind like Malik’s will find his only chance of survival in latching onto the likes of Luciani and learning so well that he overtakes his mentor. Biting incongruities abound: The prison school that teaches the illiterate Malik to read is nothing next to the system that hones him as a mob mastermind; the “rehearsal” for Malik’s first murder in prison to take out one of Luciani’s competitors, and how haunted Malik is afterward, stand in pointed contrast to how easily and thoughtlessly he kills later.

Perhaps the biggest irony is that the prison in which most of this bitter, riveting story takes place seems downright liberal to American eyes used to the likes of Oz and The Shawshank Redemption. Prisoners have televisions and coffeemakers in their cells, mobile phones are so easily smuggled in that they might as well be authorized, and day passes for trips into the outside world are readily available for the well-behaved inmate. And still, it’s nothing but a training ground for creating lifelong violent felons.

A PROPHET

4_stars.gif

Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup
Rated R

Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of Sideshow, A Prophet

  • Letters to Juliet

    True Love: Letters to Juliet is more than a sunny, romantic travelogue.
    • May 12, 2010
  • Ajami

    Crash Course: Ajami creates a vivid, authentic world that’s bleak but not oppressive.
    • Apr 28, 2010
  • The Losers

    The Also-Team: Every other minute of The Losers is stuff you’ve seen before.
    • Apr 21, 2010
  • More »

More by MaryAnn Johanson

  • From Screen to Stream

    Universal Studios offers new releases for those now unable to visit theaters.
    • Mar 25, 2020
  • Man of the Cloth

    Corpus Christi explores a Catholic Church in need of addressing its members' human needs.
    • Mar 18, 2020
  • More »

Latest in Film Reviews

  • Reform Candidates

    A home film festival of movies where politicians don't suck.
    • Oct 28, 2020
  • Weave Got This

    Bad Hair turns the loss of Black identity into satisfying body horror.
    • Oct 21, 2020
  • Making Sense

    David Byrne's American Utopia turns a concert into a celebration of collective humanity.
    • Oct 14, 2020
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • A Dream Come True

    After half a lifetime, Savannah Ostler's Twice the Dream becomes reality.
    • Apr 17, 2019
  • Simple Creatures

    The monster movie Sputnik can't deliver the subtext it promises
    • Aug 12, 2020

© 2020 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation