Saturday, April 03, 2010
Nominated at this year's Oscars for best foreign film, "A Prophet" is a remarkable character study of a criminal's rise to power in the French penal system. When Malik ( played by Tahar Rahim) arrives in prison to start a six year sentence, he is a naïve 19 year old. Once there he learns more than just to read and write.
Niels Arestrup plays Cesar Luciani, the criminal kingpin of the prison. It is Cesar that forces Malik's initiation into hard time when orders him to murder another inmate. From that point on, Malik works for Cesar in return for protection. Mr. Arestrup's Cesar is a Corsican Don Corleone, controlling everything inside and out of the prison with a network of corrupt guards and informants everywhere. He is a force to be reckoned with.
Like Michael Corleone in "The Godfather", it is Malik who begins innocent and grows under the tutelage of his older father figure. The film is a lesson in the corruptive nature of power and the struggle for survival in a hostile environment, filled with mistrust and betrayal. There are moments of raw violence with an impact so strong, you'll imagine violence throughout, when in reality, it's just a few scenes.
Mr. Rahim is a compelling actor, hard to read but fascinating to watch as he grows through the course of the film. His scenes with the terrific Mr. Arestrup are wonderful to watch. Their last scene together is unforgettable.