VOD film review: A Prophet (Un Prophete)
Ivan Radford | On 29, Jul 2015
Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Neils Arestrup
Watch A Prophet online in the UK: MUBI UK / BFI Player+ / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
There’s nothing like a French crime film. Proving that resoundingly well is Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet (Un Prophete), a hard-hitting piece of captivating cinema. Following the rise behind bars of North African teen Malik (Rahim), it’s one of the most claustrophobic character studies of recent years. Forget Mesrine’s Killer Instinct: this guy’s clever, resilient and he can see the future.
Chucked into jail for 6 years, Malik is confronted by a Corsican outfit almost straight away. At their head is Cesar (Arestrup), lord of the convicts and puller of strings most horrid. The problem is that Malik is an outsider; he’s more of an Arab than a Corsican. Not that the Arabs trust him either. Especially when he gets pressured into killing a prisoner by Cesar’s outfit – a defining point in Audiard’s graphic tale.
The task is horrifically simple: Malik must hide a razor blade in his mouth, get his victim to lower their guard, then whip it out at the opportune moment and slit their throat. Practising in front of a mirror, Malik’s trial runs are painful to watch. Gagging, slipping, cutting himself – it’s gut-churningly tense stuff. When the act itself occurs, the impact of it only increases.
The rest of the story is familiar enough, as Malik manipulates his way through his sentence. Pitting each group against each other, he manoeuvres himself into a position of power. Hidden under Cesar’s wing, the relationship between master and pupil is wary and watchable; Arestrup’s dominating charisma effectively counters the intensity of our leading man. Evolving into a formidable character in his own right, Malik’s turn towards violence redeems him in a disturbing way.
It’s this that makes Audiard’s movie so incredibly tough – it doesn’t flinch once. Playing on the volatile social structure of modern France, A Prophet has depth beneath its gritty surface. Add in a ghost who haunts Malik’s every move, and you get quite a complex piece. Its desire to be dense almost undoes some of Audiard’s work – 150 minutes is a little too epic, while a vision of a car crash feels unnecessary – but A Prophet remains engaging throughout, and that’s partly thanks to Rahim, who delivers a riveting, star-making performance. Sharpening his teeth like Old Mack the Knife, you’ll be looking out for any time he’s back on-screen.
A Prophet is available now on BFI Player, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription. It is also available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.