For whatever reason, I've not been making it to a lot of foreign fare in recent years. There was a time when TSLF and I would see about 50% foreign and 50% domestic films. That isn't the case anymore.
Well, I took in A Prophet a few weeks back with Chad and Steve (my only friend in Austin who is also a Super Furry Animals fan), and I was floored. I knew very little about the film other than the fact that it was a French prison movie. Having seen a fair share of French films, I expected some cursing cheese-eating surrender monkeys munching on baguettes, wearing berets, and occasionally raping each other whilst smoking cigarettes. What I got was an exceptional movie-going experience.
This being the first Jacques Audiard film I've seen, I came into the film not knowing what I was about to be given. This is easily the best prison movie since The Shawshank Redemption, which I loved. The film chronicles the rise of an Algerian prisoner through the inmate power structure of a French prison. The closest parallel to his story I can think of is that of Don Corleone story in The Godfather, Part II. This comparison is apropos in both the narrative and the qualitative sense, as A Prophet really does deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the best of The Godfather films.
Malik el Djebena as played by Tahar Rahim* is essentially a slightly more passive young Don Corleone if he had the ability to assimilate himself into nearly any group. Malik's prison ascension is compelling, and as the Arab having to be a lap dog to the Corsicans for much of the movie, it is hard not to root for him.
*It's weird but Rahim reminds me a lot of Maurice Compte, who I've always recognized as the guy from The Dream Catcher--not the shitty Stephen King adaptation--a film I recall having liked. Unfortunately, no one else in the world other than Compte himself would remember him. He was one of Gunn's peeps when Gunn was introduced on "Angel."
Generally speaking, the acting seems solid. I use the word 'seems' here because I hesitate to trust myself when evaluating the acting in a foreign-language film. Regardless, nothing seems to be amiss on the acting front.
Now I should note that the pacing of the narrative is very European. It takes its sweet time in getting rolling, but once Malik endears himself to the Corsicans, the film finally gets its legs under it. The slow start works in this case, and his efforts to embed himself in the backyard of the Corsicans and the ensuing double-/triple-agent life he takes on is fascinating.
All in all, the film is great, and it still seems to be playing in art-house theaters. Go see it. You'll be so happy you did.