Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Prophet. B+

Though hailed as a new crime classic from some, A Prophet actually struggles to stand up to the greatest gangster films to which it's been compared. Still, the movie manages to hold itself together just fine, even if it's no masterpiece. It's both exciting and compelling and deserves it's foreign mainstream status as well as the Oscar nomination it received for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this year. A Prophet is like Goodfellas and The Godfather in that it takes a naive youngster and transforms him into gangster through a long, violent journey of rising through the ranks of crime. But the difference here is that the youngster is in prison and remains so until the end of the movie. It's unlike any mob movie you've seen because the boss of the Coriscan mafia, Luciani, is running operations from behind bars. The protagonist, Malik (Tahar Rahim), becomes Luciani's right hand man when the boss's other reliable henchmen are released. A Prophet is very impounded and would have been far too claustrophobic if Malik was not allowed to take free days from the prison. The second half of the movie deals more with his time outside jail performing various tasks for Luciani (who, by the way, is clearly drawn from Vito Corleone in The Godfather). I wasn't entirely convinced by how the movie works in terms of its setting and the actions that take place there. One of the chief reasons Luciani is able to perform his operations is because the prison warden is corrupt. But still, the freedom they have inside this huge prison seemed a little far-fetched. Wouldn't somebody else get suspicious? Maybe I'm just basing this off of other prison movies I've seen in which the inmates are monitored more closely. A Prophet also fails when it tries to add a supernatural element that was completely uncalled for. The movie is far too gritty and uncompromising to literally present Malik as a prophet. Also, there are numerous scenes where he's visited by the ghost of the man he killed to earn Luciani's protection. At first we think it's psychological to manifest the guilt Malik feels. But after the apparitions continue, the movie seems to be suggesting he really is a spirit. As for Malik's character, he's a brick wall the whole way through. At one point he asks Luciani if he knows what he's feeling, and Luciani says he could care less. At this point we're dying to get in Malik's head, but we never do. And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe we don't need to know, because in truth, we've had too many movies where the script readily informs us every detail of the main character's emotions. That A Prophet declines this opportinity is perhaps its greates strength.

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