…and he doesn’t come from North America.
Lately it seems we’ve been importing a lot of the best crime dramas. The Departed was probably the last memorable one, and that was based on a Japanese movie. Basically it appears the well has run dry for quite some time when it comes to gritty crime dramas. It’s like the horror genre when it ran out of gas post-Scream. We started copying what Asians were doing.
Though this isn’t Japanese (it’s French), I wouldn’t be surprised if we remade A Prophet. It’s one of those movies ripe for an aging lifer like Jack Nicholson who sinks his fangs into the meat of a younger prison inmate named Malik. He forces Malik to kill an Arab since they share the same cell block. He provides him protection and enlists him for more important work when he sees he’ll remain loyal. It gets to a point where you’re not sure who benefits from the other more. The pendulum swings back and forth. Ultimately though it is about how their relationship changes, one that can be considered forced servitude. There is always the tension underneath what’s going on: will Malik ever manage to kill his old Corsican mafia captor or just let him rot behind bars?
I won’t say what he does, but either outcome is just as much of a reward for Malik as it is for the audience. We go through a lot with him during his six year sentence. It begins with the murder of the Arab. It doesn’t go according to plan. He’s supposed to hide a razor blade in his mouth until the moment he has to strike him in the jugular with it. But just holding the blade in there is hard enough and takes practice and time in front of the mirror spitting out blood before he can get it right.
We don’t know what Malik did to get into prison. For us he’s just a blank slate who has little choice in the matter of becoming a murderer. Even though the Arab dies a painful and horrible death, he still talks to Malik in his cell and hangs out like a ghost that haunts his conscience and won’t let him forget what he did. It builds our sympathy for Malik so that as he gets on in his years, grows a mustache, gets to leave prison for good behavior and becomes embroiled in criminal activity in the real world, we’re still rooting for him to prevail.
When I think of crime dramas that are “gritty” there are always some elements of a classical construction that gives it the feeling of theatricality. Scorsese, for all the grit he rubs into his stories, loves style even more. He has no problem editing in a montage laid over a sweet Rolling Stones song. It gives his film energy. It’s badass. There’s nothing harder than a mafia movie with a thumping rock soundtrack. Well, turns out there is something harder than that. What I liked most about this film was that it felt real. I wasn’t watching a movie. The theatricality, the escapism of Scorsese was absent.
Here there are a couple American hip hop tunes laid over a montage. There’s some American blues too. For a film made in France about a guy who can speak French, Corsican and Arabic while American music is in the soundtrack, it’s the foreign equivalent to what Scorsese would be doing today if he was a little younger and born a Parisian who grew up on Scorsese and wanted to best him at his own game. I guess that’d be a cosmic paradox, but you get the idea.