Friday, March 26, 2010

A Prophet

A Prophet is that rare breed of film that is hard to come by. It has no firm character introduction, no distinct plot, no wasted dialogue on pointless exposition, no glorified violence; in short: it’s the atypical film of America cinema. Which is probably why it bleeds originality and begs to be seen.

Again, in chronicling the “plot”, there’s not much to say. A 19-year-old kid goes to prison, gets forced to join a gang or die, and slowly starts to make a name for himself in the six years he has to serve. But this isn’t the same gangster-rising-up-to-become-prison-leader flick we’ve all seen before. No. The “prophet” in A Prophet has no crowning moment of glory, no “I am the man” moment of self-gratification, which is interesting. The story evolves in such a seamless manner that when it’s over, you actually feel like you’ve witnessed this kid’s entire six years in the joint.

Casting an actor willing to go for broke doesn’t hurt, and Tahar Rahim nails it. Switching flawless from French to Arabic, depending on who he is trying to dupe, Rahim casts you under his pretentious spell; you aren’t sure if his character is either very smart, or very stupid. Every move the kid makes is a life-risking gamble, and damn if it isn’t a thrill to follow him.

But I gotta say, the standout performance is from Niels Arestrup, who plays an aged, terrifying gang leader. The dude is short, small and white-haired; not too intimating. But by the end of the movie, you’re squirming in your seat every time he comes on screen. It’s saying a lot that Arestrup’s final scene in this film is the movie’s standout moment.

I can easily see why A Prophet was nominated for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, but that doesn’t mean the film is not without its faults. There are a few brief scenes in the movie (all involving distorted, dark, slow motion photography) where I’m not exactly sure what the hell is going on. One looks like Rahim is stabbing a guy with a fork, another are of deer running down a road. Maybe I missed something? Maybe A Prophet is a film that grows better with multiple viewings? Either way, you’re in for something new, for better or worse. A-

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