Directed by Jacques Audiard (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Bidegain, based on the original incarnations of the tale by Abdel Raouf Dafri and Nicolas Peufaillit), A Prophet is an absolutely fantastic crime movie that mixes in some great characterisations with some Machiavellian moves, some moments of thoughtfulness with explosive violence and equal amounts of hope and despair.
Tahar Rahim plays Malik El Djebana, a young Arab man who is sent to a French prison and tries to keep himself to himself. That doesn't last long, however, and once the head prisoner, Cesar (Niels Arestrup), asks him to do a job for him he is then dragged in to more and more schemes that involve him learning all about the criminal politics in and out of the prison. Malik watches and listens to everything and learns a hell of a lot, something that helps his self-preservation as the situation being created by Cesar and his underlings becomes increasingly dangerous.
It's a very traditional tale in many ways, the youngster who enters the criminal world and swiftly rises through the ranks while facing ever-increasing challenges and risks. What separates A Prophet from 101 other movies on the same subject is the way it nicely walks a line between something cinematic and something that feels very real. The other unique ingredient is the race of the lead character and how that feeds into the storyline, an essential factor in just how he can interact with certain groups and gain each foothold that he seeks.
The script is excellent and the direction from Jacques Audiard perfectly judged. Things move along at a brisk pace but there are tense scenes in which time slows right down, with every second vital as Malik weighs up his situation.
All of the cast do an excellent job. To honours go to Tahar Rahim but Niels Arestrup easily shares the top spot. Adel Bencherif, Jean-Philippe Ricci, and Slimane Dazi are also very good, along with absolutely everyone else who appears onscreen.
A Prophet is one of those movies that is actually quite hard to review in the blog format. I could either sum my feelings up for it in the first paragraph and leave it at that or I could explore every detail of the movie and create an essay going on for thousands of words but that's not the format for my blog so I'm going to settle for this middle ground with a review that I hope, as usual, gives enough information and "flavour" to people who may then check out the film and enjoy it for themselves.