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REVIEW: A Prophet

Prediction: You'll want to walk out of this wrongly praised foreign film

(L-R) Tahar Rahim as Malik and Niels Arestrup as Cesar Luciani in "A Prophet."

(L-R) Tahar Rahim as Malik and Niels Arestrup as Cesar Luciani in "A Prophet."

  • (L-R) Tahar Rahim as Malik and Niels Arestrup as Cesar Luciani in "A Prophet."
  • (L-R) Niels Arestrup as Cesar Luciani and Tahar Rahim as Malik in "A Prophet."
  • Niels Arestrup as Cesar Luciani in "A Prophet."
  • (L-R) Reda Kateb as Jordi al Gitan and Tahar Rahim as Malik in "A Prophet."
  • Tahar Rahim as Malik in "A Prophet."
  • (L-R) Tahar Rahim as Malik and Niels Arestrup as Cesar Luciani in "A Prophet."
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People have asked me how many movies I’ve walked out of. I tell them of the three. There was a Mel Brooks “comedy” called Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Boys on the Side (which wanted to be Thelma & Louise so bad, it even borrowed many aspects of the script); and there was a Tyler Perry movie that I only got 10 minutes into before walking out of, and into an Adam Sandler movie that wasn’t much better.

I almost had my fourth movie walk-out. It was A Prophet, which got nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars.

The first half hour was excellent. We’re introduced to Malik, a shy young prisoner that moved from juvi to jail, to finish his last six years. This takes place in France, but it has the same stuff going on that American prison movies have -- prisoners throwing things to others attached to string, showers with fight scenes (and propositions), prison guards that can’t be trusted, etc.

Things start out interesting enough, especially with actor Niels Arestrup, who acts like Marlon Brando’s Godfather character (and looks like him, if you slapped on a white beard and added 15 years…more like Brando in The Freshman).

It doesn’t take the kid long to learn that he has to do what Niels says. And a scene with him murdering his first victim, is done splendidly. We see him rehearsing his technique, with a razor blade hidden in his mouth. And doing it so clumsily during practice, often leads to a mouth full of blood. When the hit actually takes place, it’s one of the most graphic scenes you’ll probably ever see on film. And let’s just say, practice doesn’t always make perfect.

These graphic scenes made me think of Bronson. Not Charles Bronson the actor, but Bronson the world's most dangerous prison, in which a bio-pic was made last year. It didn’t get a lot of attention, but was far superior to this.

As the naïve Malik rises through the ranks, everyone watching the film will think of the same movies; a little Goodfellas here, Godfather there, and lots and lots of Scarface.

Cool Hand Luke is probably a prison film most won’t think of when making comparisons with A Prophet, but since that deals with a guy that went to prison for something minor, and things get major really quickly, I thought about it. Heck, I wished I had just stayed home and rented it instead.

Most critics dismissed Scarface as over-the-top fluff. Yet, A Prophet is getting praised, and I’m not sure why. The Oscar nomination wasn’t warranted, and I’m not sure how this won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. About halfway through, I stopped caring for Malik and what he was doing and whether he’d be successful in his quest to move up in the ranks.

The premise of watching this guy turn into a thug, yet he still possess an innocence and a quest to learn -- not just in the crime world, but in the jails classrooms -- can be interesting at times. It wasn’t as clever as the filmmakers thought, having Malik learn the word “canard,” though.

There were a few things I didn’t understand. Was Malik a prophet, seeing visions of his first victim and a few things that happen in the future? And who was who in the SUV that was about to get shot up?

It’s a shame, because when that SUV is followed, lots of interesting things happen (like the characters not anticipating their victims might never get out of the car, but have delivery people approach the window).

The shoot-out that eventually happens, could’ve been great; but like other things in this movie that are done well, we’ve seen it all before (Malik not being able to hear because of guns being fired in the SUV at close range, well…that was done in The Fugative and Copland).

Of the 25 people in the theater with me, two different couples left before it ended. And during the movie, I’ve never seen more cell phones turn on. I’m guessing, like I did, it was to see what time it was. At one point, I guessed we were almost three hours into it, and it was only an hour and a half of the two hour, 30 minute film.

I did like the songs used in the movie. We got Mack the Knife, Bridging the Gap (a rap that samples Muddy Waters nicely), and Turner Cody’s Corner of my Room. I would’ve preferred watching a video of this song than the movie. Some of the lyrics:

Now join me in the Rubicon and paddle me to France

The nectarine is sweeter there and we ain't got a chance

'Round here

I'm counting Lincolns

And living in the corner of my room

I'm looking at the goddess of the hunt

And staring at the moon

My friend's ain't got no lovin' and the babies ain't got teats

The women are all busy gettin' smart out on the streets

There’s a point about three-quarters of the way into the movie where the words “40 days/40 nights” show up on the screen. That’s how long Malik is sent to solitary confinement. I felt like it was me that was sent to the hole. I was hoping the next words I saw on the screen where the closing credits.

The writer/director Jacques Audiard has been getting a lot of attention lately, and with this being his most praised movie, I just don’t see it.

I give the film a D+, and all the critics that praised it, a middle finger.