It’s quite a challenge to stand out in the pantheon of cinematic crime epics, but ‘A Prophet’ (or, ‘Un Prophète’, in its native French) manages to do just that.
What Jacques Audiard's film has on its side is a) its culture and b) its almost mythical sense of wonder. We follow Malik El Djebena's rise through the French mafia, all while he serves a six year sentence for beating up a police officer. Tahar Rahim plays Malik with a blissful naivety and it really opens him up to a unique emotional attachment with the audience.
It's an important connection to have, really, because the stakes start to rise within days of his arrival, and they just continue to escalate. He's always caught up in something bigger and more dangerous than the last job . . . but remarkably, Malik remains calm and hypnotically endearing.
Which brings us to the question of why he puts himself in so much danger? Early on, he seems to value the possible protection his actions could bring, but when he's out killing mob bosses on his 12-hour leaves, his motives remain ultimately ambiguous. As does the film's title, in fact; the religious undertones are all there but, again, to what end?
So, in a way, it's a film that left me hanging, but would an explanation have changed anything? In the end, one thing is obvious; the answers we're given are a perfect reflection of the film's enigmatic central character.