A Prophet

Film: A Prophet
Director: Jacques Audiard
Starring: Tahar Rahim
Runtime: 155 Mins
Review: Duncan Pelham
Rating: ****

A Prophet is one of those films the Press likes to laude with confusing hyperbolic descriptions: ‘The-Godfather-meets-Shawshank Redemption-via-La-Haine’. Yes, it’s French, concerns the mob, and is set in prison. But that’s about as far as those strained comparisons go. At the heart of A Prophet’s brilliance is its old-fashioned gangster story-telling, dragged into the twenty first century by unnerving realism and some insightful socio-political deliberations.

The story follows Malik, a young inmate in a French prison. Before long he falls under the influence of a powerful group of criminals, who seemingly run the prison. His astuteness wins him a position as a key cog in the mob’s illicit dealings.

Like any gangster film, A Prophet purports to an all-encompassing scope. Thus the film has a lot to fit in, and as a result, it moves at a terrific rate. Sub-plots and characters come and go – we’re alerted to a new turn in the narrative by a mere nod of a head or the utterance of a few words and, within seconds, our protagonist is off an another mission. Blink and you’ll miss it.

But, for the most part, A Prophet doesn’t conform to the genre’s conventions. If taken simply as a thriller, it succeeds immensely. From the outset you’re plummeted into Malik’s unfortunate circumstances – he has to choose between becoming a killer or death. But it is director Jacques Audiard’s adroit blend of thrills with grim social realism that marks A Prophet out. Despite a final third that becomes increasingly convoluted, this is a refreshing and distinctive addition to the classic gangster canon.

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