We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
There is a murder at the center of Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet" that is unlike most murders I've seen in films. It's clumsy, messy and brutal, and leaves the killer shaking. Whether he shakes with grief, relief or anger we cannot say. That's the key to this film. We look, we see, but we cannot say. It often must be that way when we witness violence. Those capable of murdering live in another country.
The movie, one of this year's foreign film Oscar nominees, follows the life of Malik, a young Frenchman of Arab descent, who enters prison as a naive outsider and is shaped into an evil, adult criminal. He wasn't born evil; he was born a shy, passive loser. Prison made him all that he can be. He seems an unlikely protagonist for a prison movie. Played by Tahar Rahim, he's skinny, insecure, trying to raise a mustache. He's behind bars for unclear reasons; he claims he's innocent, although it doesn't matter. Prison efficiently strips him of privacy and self-respect and serves him over to the Corsican gang that controls everything behind bars through violence and bribes.
This gang is run by Cesar Luciani (Niels Arestrup), a man who has the presence of Don Corleone but colder eyes. He walks everywhere followed by bodyguards. His spies see all that happens. He gives an order, and it is followed out. He makes it his business to intimidate the new man, who is useful because he provides entry into the wing that is housing the Arabic prisoners.
There is a prisoner there (Hichem Yacoubi) who Cesar wants killed. This man must not live to testify. Malik is instructed by Cesar's lieutenant how to conceal a razor blade in his mouth and slit the man's throat. It is very simple. If Malik doesn't do this, he will die. When Malik seeks help from the warden, he quickly sees that Cesar is right: Kill, or die.