2009 (France / Italy)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Viewed: December 24, 2010
Format: Netflix Instant Queue (via Playstation 3)
B+ - In recent years, even arthouse cinemas seem to have been overrun with gangster epics, and although the mother tongue often changes, the cadences are usually the same. Fortunately, Jacques Audiard’s mostly prison-bound entry in the subgenre, A Prophet, proves to be a vibrant and exceptional dramatic work, one that elbows conventions and repeatedly surprises without feeling the need to burn its underlying formula to the ground. Much of the film’s absorbing and lithe character lies in the manner in which it regards its anti-hero, Malik (Tahar Rahim), an nonreligious Arab who enters the French corrections system without family or allies, and receives a six-year crash course in the acquisition and safeguarding of power. Rahim’s estimable performance—part whipped mongrel, part prowling panthe—and Audiard’s peculiar flourishes of magical realism provide glimpses of the man’s emotional terrain, but the details of his schemes are often shuttered away from the viewer until the last moment. Accordingly, the film works remarkably well strictly as a bloody, smoldering thriller where the narrative’s precise trajectory is deliciously uncertain. More broadly, A Prophet refreshes in its shades-of-gray stance towards nakedly self-interested behavior, in its grim assessment of the clashes between self-respect and ambition, and in the specificity of its contemporary French setting, so awash in social and ethnic shudders.