From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Prophet - B+

Rated R for strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language and drug material, 155 minutes
In French with English subtitles

Compelling yet overlong French mob film "A Prophet"

The dark new film "A Prophet" is something similar to an Arab-French version of "The Godfather" as imagined by Martin Scorsese. Scorsese doesn't direct the film, but it's new wave feel, with fast edits and energetic mood music, is reminiscent of his "Goodfellas" but with a Michael Corleone-type character who rises to power within the confines of a prison. The film is a little uneven and overlong, but is an entertaining, often compelling look at the Arab mafia in France.

Sentenced to six years in prison, young man Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is alone in the world and can neither read nor write. On his arrival at the prison he falls under the sway of a Corsican Mafiagroup, led by Luciani (Niels Leistrup), who enforce their rule in the prison. Malik toughens himself and wins the confidence of the Corsican group, following Luciani's orders to kill a fellow prisoner. Luciano eventually arranges 12-hour leaves for Malik, in which Luciano sends him on missions, including murder. Malik learns how to read and write, and uses all his intelligence to discreetly develop his own network. His power grows and he finally realizes he's no longer on Luciano's side, but able to stand for himself.

"A Prophet" is an engaging, convincing and complex examination of Arabs in the French and Italian crime movements, a fictional story from acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard. The first half is the more fascinating as it probes Malik's rise to power, while it's midsection lags too much, giving way for a more fast-paced, engaging and bloody last act. Audiard's film isn't without its flaws, though: it's too long, repetitive and has too many secondary characters (some of whom don't make their entrance until late in the film) that aren't essential to the familiar "Godfather"-style plot, and some might complain it doesn't provide much backstory to either of the main characters.

Otherwise, the acting and direction are first-rate, with a stellar, wholly believable performance from French newcomer Rahim as the Michael Corleone-type character, and veteran French actor Leistrup as a crime boss who calls the shots from inside his prison cell. It's an interesting contrast to see the change in the characters, as Luciani's power dwindles and Malik's rise to power. Two of "A Prophet's" more memorable scenes involve Malik and a lot of blood: his first, very graphic kill in the prison, and a shootout inside an SUV in the film's last section. The two character's final scene, in which Luciani attempts to approach Malik to speak to him, that underscores "A Prophet's" themes of how power, especially in the crime world, is transferred.

The epic film, nominated for the Academy Award this year for Best Foreign Film, has already won a slew of awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year and Best Actor for Rahim at the European Awards. The first-rate production, particularly the editing, music and acting, make this film a must-see for those who enjoy a twist on the crime drama.

"A Prophet" opens in Dallas in March.