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Review: Un Prophète

Prison is viewed as the last resort for the dregs of society. Criminals will either spend their time recounting and repenting their misdeeds that brought them there, or something more sinister occurs. Occupants with negligible offenses seek safety in the arms of prison elders. Young men are trained by the old about the inner, delicate linings of a criminal enterprise. Now, they are smarter, more sophisticated offenders. What is left is the evolution of a criminal.

Malik (Tahar Rahim) is a low-level head-buster. Despite only being nineteen, Malik is going to serve the next six years of his life in prison. If he wants to cling to survival, he needs to find a group to attach himself to.

Luciani (Neils Arestrup) is connected and he also serves as the unofficial head of the prison that Malik inhabits. When Luciani makes a proposal to Malik, suddenly he has to make a choice that never faced him before: kill the new witness for the state, or become just another figurehead in the national fatality statistics.

The film is masterful in its presentation of its confines. When the camera is allowed to roam a setting that is not a jail cell we the viewers are physically relieved as well as Malik. The freedom offered by the shots out of prison are immediately confronted with the harsh realities of what Malik knows too well.

Whether it be a close-up of Malik holding a razor between his teeth, or Luciani staring out of a jail-cell window he knows he will never leave each shot is composed magnificently. These are several select shots throughout the film that are quite good and hopefully as time moves on more filmmakers will be tempted to be this creative as well.

In the long run though the film is kept from Godfather status because of its tendency to delve into the realm of the fantastical. When a film's prime motive is to ground itself in the harsh light of realism this contradiction lends itself to criticism.

While 'Prophete' delivers several in-depth looks at each of its main players, the film works on a much larger scale. The prison system does not always rehabilitate its inhabitants, it creates monsters. We do not know what kind of person Malik was like before he entered the prison walls, but he comes out with more blood on his hands than when he first started.


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