Jacques Audiard's gritty crime drama 'A Prophet' has been highly lauded, winning the Grand Prix at Cannes, France's César, and a BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language. The reason for all this praise? It's a fascinating film. 'A Prophet' tells a familiar tale about a young man struggling to survive in prison, yet it remains fresh and compelling in its storytelling.
Malik El Djebena, played so brilliantly by Tahar Rahim that surely he will be on screen for years to come, is a 19-year-old young man, of Algerian descent I presume, sentenced to six years for fighting with cops, a charge he denies. He has no family on the outside and knows no one inside. He stays to himself in the yard, but that can only last so long. John Donne's quote "No Man is an Island" is especially true here with the Corsican mobsters essentially running the prison and the growing number of Muslim inmates. Malik is beaten up for his sneakers and is offered hash in exchange for a blowjob, which he finds insulting, by Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), who is scheduled to testify against the Corsican mob.
A message from outside is passed to the unpredictable and brutal mob boss César Luciani (Niels Arestrup) from his superior Jacky Marcaggi that Reyeb can't make the trial, meaning they have 10 days to kill him. Not wanting the death traced back to them, Luciani makes Malik an offer he can’t refuse: kill Reyeb and get protection, or be killed. Forced against his will, Malik chooses Luciani's protection and is haunted by the decision.
Although people presume he works for Luciani, Malik always states he's working for himself, no doubt in part because most of the Corsicans look down on him because he's an "Arab." People doubt his bravado, but upon examining his circumstances it's an accurate assessment. Being illiterate, he takes advantage of the education classes and he befriends Ryad (Adel Bencherif), who tutors him. This will prove a vital relationship.
Not content to accept the bottom position with the Corsicans, Malik learns to not just survive but thrive within the circumstances, informed by the visions he has, which earn him the nickname "Prophet". As he begins to grow in stature, his path is destined to lead towards confrontation with a number of people, but will the result for Malik be triumphant or tragic?
'A Prophet' is a very well made film. The actors bring the smart screenplay by Audiard & Thomas Bidegain and Abdel Raouf Dafri & Nicolas Peufaillit to life. The plot is compelling and keeps the audience guessing. The characters and their motivations are always believable. I wouldn't be surprised if it was based on true events because it all seems so authentic. Director of photography Stéphane Fontaine and his team should also be commended for their fine work.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Classic brings 'A Prophet' to high-definition on a BD-50 Blu-ray housed inside a standard blue keepcase. Before the menu, there are trailers for 'Micmacs,' 'The Secret in their Eyes,' 'Get Low,' and 'The White Ribbon'. The Blu-ray is reported to be Region A.
The video is presented with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture is very impressive. The source is extremely clean and retains the natural film grain.
The color palette is limited in the prison, where much of the film is set. A lot of grays, browns, and blues with the latter appearing moderately bright on occasion. A brighter and wider array of colors can be seen when Malik is outside the prison, such as when he is at Ryad's home or the beach. The variations of actor's skintones stay consistent.
Whites are accurate and blacks are deep and inky. There is strong contrast throughout and the shadow delineation allows for many things to be discernable. The texture of the worn and weathered prison walls is vivid and it's noticeable that various writings were scrawled at different times over the years. Facial detail is sharp throughout as every wrinkle and mark is constantly on display.
Objects are sharp and the focus only gets soft when intended by the director, such as the slow-motion shots. Three-dimensional depth is evident even in low-lit scenes. One of the better-looking visuals on Blu-ray. However, the only negative is in the last scene with Luciani as he sits alone on a bench and the fine threads of his jacket create artifacts.
The audio comes in French and German versions of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I listened to the French, which also contains Corsican and Arabic language with the English subtitles on.
The surrounds do a very good job presenting ambiance of the prison from doors clanging shut to the activity of prisoners like the sounds of the sewing room machinery. A rainstorm is so loud and clear it's almost palpable. There is even special attention given to the little details like the soft crinkling of a plastic bag as it nearly suffocates a man. Bass helps fill the soundspace but doesn’t have a commanding presence except for the limited action scenes.
Dialogue is predominant from the front center channel with support from the front left and right. It's all clear. Effects are distinct without being distracting. I never noticed any imaging take place. The music, setting aside the fact that some of the song choices are odd, blends into the scenes. The three elements mixed together create an optimum balance and demonstrate a great dynamic range.
'A Prophet' is a powerful tale of survival crafted by a talented cast and crew. Its realistic depiction of brutality and violence may be a turn-off for some, but it's not gratuitous. It serves a purpose and has ramifications that contribute to my designation of this as a highly recommend film. The Blu-ray looks superb and presents very good audio. The film's accolades are deserved, and it could become a classic in the annals of French crime cinema.