A Prophet (2009)
France’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar is like a much more realistic version of HBO’s soapy prison drama, Oz, for better and worse. We follow a young prisoner who gets caught up in the power dynamics of the many warring factions within the pokey. This is a dense, slow-burning drama that hooks you early but then seems to stall. Early on, our lead character is given an ultimatum by a Corsican boss: murder an informant held in the jail or die himself. It’s a turbulent moral struggle with definite intrigue as he considers his dwindling options of escape and practices a routine to slit a man’s throat to save his own. After that A Prophet introduces a stream of characters inside and out of prison and it gets more complicated. The film values realism but it means that the characters aren’t as colorful, and therefore memorable or interesting, as they would be in similar crime capers. It makes it hard to remember who is who and why exactly they’re important. The story follows the steady ascent of our lead from nascent to criminal boss but it all plays out as a series of small power plays with little grand gestures. This is not Scarface at all. There’s little action, scant suspense, but mostly the movie deals with the minutia of climbing the criminal underworld. It’s like the filmmakers want to impress you with the homework they did in sociology. A bland lead and an overabundance of procedural details blunts the film’s entertainment quality. I appreciate gritty realism but after a while I’d sacrifice some of that realism for some more engaging characters.
Nate’s Grade: B+