| by Allan Stackhouse |
Someone raved about this movie some time ago so I admit that my perspective wasn’t completely fresh when I watched French writer/director Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet. The experience for me was a mildly entertained one but that could very well be because I completely lost interest in the film after the first act.
The great thing about A Prophet's script is that its conflict is set up so quickly. Malik El Djebena is sentenced to six years in prison and is almost immediately propositioned to kill someone or be killed. His appearance doesn’t entirely fit the dominating white presence in the prison nor the growing Arab one, allowing him to navigate both worlds. He does not have a choice about it because of the Corsican gang practically running the place, receiving instruction on specifically how to perfrom the kill as well. His attempts to get out of it are met with failure. These consistent and well-crafted raises in stakes were well-directed and enthralling.
This act's end unfortunately proved to be the peak of drama for the entire film. It is just after this incredibly exciting string of scenes that the plot becomes very watery and altogether unimportant. The film seemed to shoot its wad and then expected these slower paced scenes to be able to carry the rest of the film which, for me, was entirely unsuccessful. The end of the film attempts to regain the first act’s momentum with Malik’s sudden decision to improvise upon learning that his final targets are not going to exit their vehicle. This scene is actually quite brilliant stylistically with its choice of angles, slow motion footage, and sound design but even these traits cannot make up for the lack of interest I had when watching the scenes that lead up it.
The suspense built by the scene where Malik kills Reyeb is thick, that is not in question. The scene in which he kills him of course doesn't go to plan, further building the suspense. He earns the protection of Cesar Luciani. Malik’s climb up the gang ladder by turning into a porter for the Corsicans and then running favors for Cesar, his boss, and Jordi, his business associate in drug sales, did not prove to be anywhere near the stakes of his first foray into the prison world.
As the title states, we are made to believe during the film that Malik is a prophet of some sort but even that isn’t completely fleshed out. It as actually only addressed in the scene where he predicts the car accident. The drug dealer is in awe of his "gift" but there’s no other scenes to support the idea built by this one. Why have it at all? Why not have it earlier? Why not more consistently reference it?
As much as I wanted to enjoy this film, I simply could not. If you’re up for a well-crafted gangster movie, you will likely enjoy A Prophet more than I did. The recurring subject of race doesn’t completely translate for me but perhaps there are some nuances in gang-related subject matter that are ultimately foreign to me.