Wednesday, September 15, 2010
A Prophet (2009) takes a mere 135 minutes to cover the story material found in the first 15 or 20 minutes of the average James Cagney movie in the 1930s; namely, the rise of a young, tough but naive outsider to become the top of a dangerous gang. At least with Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, it was fun. A Prophet is just slow and weary and heavy and self-aware.
So what's new? The story takes place mainly in prison. While that seems novel at first, in the long run it doesn't change anything about the dynamic of the story. The young gangster waxes, the old gangster wanes, and it is Little Caesar all over again.
The main character is Muslim, which turns out to make no real difference. Sure, he's part of an emerging minority, but so were the Irish and Italian characters of the films of 70 and 80 years ago. There is nothing unique about his religious affiliation--no objection to alcohol or drugs, no special provision for prayer, no specifically Muslim worldview.
The whole movie is French. Well, that just means that there's a lot of chatter, the actual events in the story are spaced far apart, and the "run and gun" method of filming becomes numbing rather than exciting.
Cineastes around the world are raving about this film. It has won many awards and high ratings from critics. I'll confess: I don't get it.