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Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

Un Prophete

ByCuriosity Inc.

Mar 28, 2010

This is a strange movie to review, since pretty much every positive and negative I have to say about it comes with a caveat.

For example, there was the cinematography. There were some times when the DOP went for some visual flourishes that I just didn’t cotton to. Other times, the camera was placed exactly where it needed to be, such as the last shot of the movie (more on that later).

I also thought that the movie was not paced very well, but that’s mostly because the action scenes were so energetic and emotionally charged that the rest of the movie seemed limp by comparison. Then again, there were the last scenes of the movie, which were quiet yet totally awesome (again, more later).

Moreover, a key part of what makes the movie so slow is also what makes it work: Malik El Djebena’s development from an illiterate teen to a powerful crime boss. Imagine, if you will, that you’re watching someone build a very intricate house of cards. If you’ve ever watched someone build a house of cards, you’ll know that this is slow and boring to watch. Now imagine that just as you realize how masterful and beautiful this house of cards is, it collapses with the volume of a firecracker. Now repeat this two or three times, with each house building on the remains of the previous one to greater heights and complexity and each collapse ten times louder than the one before. That’s the best metaphor I’ve got for what it’s like to watch this movie.

The film revolves around this gradual and believable character arc, but even this comes with a caveat: The plot elements from which this movie derives its title. Maybe some others will understand the thematic and religious layers that make Malik a prophet of sorts. To me, it served as a useless dogleg in the story. I hope that some will get the dream sequences and hallucinations that establish his title, but I personally saw them as nothing more than a thinly-veiled deus ex machina to get Malik out of a second-act predicament.

The only thing about this movie that I can unreservedly praise is the acting. I’ve already gone over how effective Malik’s character arc is, and the actor who plays him was a big part of that. Additionally, all of the actors were very good at keeping their characters morally ambiguous. You could legitimately cheer for or against any of them, even Malik (it’s hard to cheer for his success on those occasions when you remember that his success is measured in dirty money made and bodies dropped).

As for the actor playing Cesar, I think he can best be described in comparison to Mo’Nique’s character from Precious. Yes, I’m going there. Remember that 10-minute monologue that got Mo’Nique her Oscar (and deservedly so, let me be clear)? Well… *checks IMDB*… Niels Arestrup does pretty much everything with Cesar that Mo’Nique did with Precious’ mother in that scene, and he did it with 45 seconds and not a word spoken. Phenomenal work in that scene and wonderful work throughout the movie.

Finally, I simply have to talk about the movie’s last shot because it absolutely floored me. If you should ever see this movie for yourself, note that Malik knows where he’s heading, even though we can’t see it. Simultaneously, his past is following closely, but we don’t know if Malik will go back to it or keep walking from it. We also have no way of knowing if that past will embrace him or kill him. Some movies end with a bang. Others end with a whimper. This one ends with a stoic silence.

In the end, this film is an examination of how prisons can strengthen criminals, rather than punish them. It posits that just like anyplace else, prisons are governed by rules and internal politics. And just like anyplace else, these rules and internal politics can be exploited for personal gain. This isn’t an easy movie to watch and you won’t be missing much if you pass on it, but I’d suggest a look all the same.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

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