Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif
Directed by: Jacques Audiard (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped”)
Written by: Jacques Audiard (“The Beat That My Heart Skipped”)

It’s a bold move to go as far as comparing anything to “The Godfather,” but in terms of direction and thematic elements France’s “A Prophet” (“Un Prophete”) might just astonish you. There is a power and poetic essence that makes this film an extremely effective addition to the crime-drama genre.

If you’ve seen director Jacques Audiard’s prior film, 2005’s “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” the talent behind the camera is evident. Both “Heart” and “A Prophet” won the Céasar Award for Best Film, France’s version of an Academy Award. “A Prophet” was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language category last month.

While not on the same epic scale as Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece, Audiard does have a unique vision that makes “A Prophet” brim with grim realism and compelling emotion. The film tells the story of Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim in a star-making performance), an illiterate 19-year-old kid of Arab and Corsican descent, who is sentenced to six years in prison for assaulting a police officer. Once incarcerated, the boyish Malik quickly becomes part of prison politics when he is recruited by a Corsican gang headed by the heartless César Luciani (the fantastic Niels Arestrup).

Presented with an ultimatum he can’t refuse (murder a fellow inmate who is about to testify against the gang and receive protection or die), Malik is stripped of his innocence and slowly begins his transformation into the type of man he never thought he could become.

As Malik, Rahim is simply brilliant as he realizes the decisions that he makes to be forced into a gang will change him forever. His vulnerability is short-lived. Malik is made well aware that to survive behind the prison walls he must be both respected and feared. The evolution is very reminiscent of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone, who doesn’t consider himself a vital part of the family business. After his first brutal kill, however, there is no turning back. Like Michael, Malik is aware of the responsibility he has taken on.

It doesn’t take long to be mesmerized by Audiard’s rich storytelling. Complete with realistic violence and tightly-wound characters that are ready to pop at any given second, “A Prophet” is beyond essential viewing. There is a primitive ambiance behind this picture that makes it both disturbing and awe-inspiring. For every intensely-built scene presented, “A Prophet” slices through each one like a razor.

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