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Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: A Prophet

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Richard Gallagher, Aug 3, 2010.

  1. Richard Gallagher

    Reviewer

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    A Prophet

     

    Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

    Year: 2009

    Rated: R

    Program Length: 155 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p

    Languages: French, German 5.1 DTS-HD MA

    Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, German, Turkish

     

    The Program

     

    A 2009 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, A Prophet is a densely plotted and highly original epic crime film. The film opens as a 19-year-old Arab named Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is being transported to serve a six-year sentence in a French prison. The specifics of his crime are never mentioned, and his protestations of innocence are not taken seriously. As he checks into prison he is frightened and introverted, and he seems determined to do his time by keeping to himself. He quickly discovers that it is impossible to remain anonymous and inconspicuous. In the exercise yard he is accosted by prisoners who rough him up and steal his shoes. He comes to learn that a group prisoners from Corsica, led by the kingpin César Luciani (Niels Arestrup), rule the roost in prison by virtue of bribery and ruthlessness. As a rule the Corsicans have no use for Arabs, but an unusual situation has arisen. An Arab prisoner named Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi) has been temporarily transferred to the prison while he waits to testify against the mob in an upcoming trial. César receives instructions from the outside that Reyeb must be eliminated before he is able to testify. César knows that none of the Corsicans have a chance to get close to Reyeb, so he turns his attention to Malik. He approaches the young Arab and makes an offer which Malik cannot refuse - he must kill Reyeb, or the Corsicans will kill Malik.

     

    Faced with the choice of kill or be killed, Malik has no choice but to comply. The French prison is unusual in that each prisoner has his own cell, but within the cellblock they are free to visit the cells of other prisoners until they are locked down at night. Malik gradually ingratiates himself with Reyeb, who eventually invites Malik to his cell, where he expects Malik to perform fellatio upon him. Malik's plan, which has been carefully choreographed by Corsicans, goes horribly awry, resulting in a shockingly bloody and messy scene. Malik's effort is appreciated by César, who promises him protection and allows him limited access to the inner circle. The other Corsicans grudgingly go along with this, although they treat Malik more like a servant than a compatriot. As time passes César begins to increasingly rely upon Malik to run errands for him, and Malik begins to gain a degree of respect among the other prisoners. However, a crack in César's power develops when the French government decides to move most of the Corsicans to a prison which is closer to Corsica. César, who is well past middle age, has to stay behind to complete what apparently is a life sentence. Malik realizes that he cannot count on César's protection forever, and he craftily develops strategies to look out for himself. Although the other prisoners look at Malik as someone who works for César, Malik tells his friends that he only works for himself. However, as the years pass he finds that he cannot completely shake the memory of what he had to do to preserve his own skin.

     

    A Prophet is a fascinating study of how prison life can turn a basically non-violent convict into a hardened and ruthless criminal. Prisoners who make the right connections and learn to play the game correctly end up with televisions, DVD players, CD players and refrigerators in their cells. Drug dealing is rampant behind bars, and bribing the guards even gives the prisoners access to prostitutes in their cells. Staying out of trouble rewards prisoners with occasional one-day furloughs, which Malik takes advantage of by acting as a courier for César and laying the groundwork for his own criminal enterprises. As noted above, the plotting is dense and it requires attention to keep track of everything which is happening. In fact, I plan to watch it again soon because I suspect that there are elements which I may have missed the first time around. The squeamish should take note of the fact that the R rating is well-deserved, as there are several scenes of gut-wrenching violence. That said, viewers who enjoy films of this genre are sure to be rewarded by A Prophet. The acting, particularly by Niels Arestrup as César, is uniformly excellent, and director Jacques Audiard keeps the action moving along in high gear. The film won a BAFTA as Best Film Not in the English Language and also deservedly was a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. A Prophet also was Grand Prix winner at Cannes in 2009.

     

    The Video

     

    A Prophet is a gritty film which has been given a superb Blu-ray transfer by Sony. The color palette is deliberately muted, but the picture is consistently sharp and detailed. The 1.85:1 framing appears to be spot-on, and an appropriate level of film grain gives it a natural film-like appearance. There are many dark scenes, which are served well by the solid black levels and very good shadow detail. I did not detect any digital anomalies and Sony happily continues to avoid the use of excessive DNR. Viewers of this Blu-ray disc will have nothing to complain about.

     

    The Audio

     

    The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is solid and powerful, both in French and German. There is one scene of gunfire inside a car which may cause you to jump out of your seat. The white English subtitles appear by default and are easy to read, but they can be turned off. My knowledge of French falls well short of fluency, but the English subtitles appear to be accurate. Dialogue is mostly confined to the center channel, but the surround channels are effectively used to convey ambient sounds and they really come to life during the more violent scenes. The film also has a very involving musical soundtrack, including tunes in English such as "Take Me Home with You Baby" by Jessie Mae Hemphill and "Mack the Knife" by Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The music is given an expansive soundstage.

     

    The Supplements

     

    There are just a few extras on this Blu-ray disc. A commentary track with director Jacques Audiard, actor Tahar Rahim, and co-writer Thomas Bidegain is in French, with English subtitles. The other extras, which are in standard definition, include four deleted scenes, one of which is shockingly violent. Screen test footage of Tahar Rahim is mildly interesting, as is some of the rehearsal footage. Sony has included the original theatrical trailers, as well as previews for Micmacs, The Secret in their Eyes, Get Low, The White Ribbon, Please Give, Mother and Child, The Last Station, and Cemetery Junction.

     

    As usual, BD-Live features will be enabled on the release date.

     

    The Packaging

     

    The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

     

    The Final Analysis

     

    A Prophet is an exceptionally violent but very well-made film which graphically explores the seamy, corrupt underbelly of prison life and its effect upon those who are incarcerated. Although most of the action takes place within prison walls, this film has broader scope than the typical prison film and for that reason is far more powerful than the typical prison film. 

     

    Equipment used for this review:

     

    Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player

    Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen

    Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver

    BIC Acoustech speakers

    Interconnects: Monster Cable

     

    Release Date: August 3, 2010

     
  2. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Director

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    Rich, to expand on what I said privately: This is a great review of an extraordinary film. There have been prison films, and there have been mob films, but I can't think of another that has so successfully melded the two genres -- and also kept track of the immigrant story that's so often a part of a great mob film (both the first two Godfathers and Once Upon a Time in America are major examples). Of the three films by Audiard that I've seen, this is by far the most impressive.


    As much as I enjoyed The Secret in Their Eyes, I think the foreign language Oscar went to the wrong film. It should have gone to either A Prophet or Ajami (which is a Kino release I'll be reviewing shortly). But you should be able to judge for yourself, since Secret will be released by Sony next month.
     
  3. Martin Teller

    Martin Teller Cinematographer

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    It should have gone to The Milk of Sorrow (where's our Blu-Ray of that, dammit?)


    A Prophet would have been my second choice, though.
     
  4. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Director

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    It's the last of the nominees to get a U.S. theatrical release, which will be late August. If there's a Blu-ray, it won't be until after that. Olive Films has the distribution rights.
     
  5. Richard Gallagher

    Reviewer

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    I'm looking forward to that one. The street date is 9/21.
     
  6. Ted Todorov

    Ted Todorov Producer

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    Anyone have trouble with the subtitles? We tried watching it last night and we were getting maybe one subtitle for every 4 lines of dialog. Switched to the hearing impaired subtitles, same thing. I have a Oppo BDP-83 latest official (meaning not beta) firmware. (I upgraded the firmware because of this BD -- before I did it wouldn't get past the main menu).


    Very frustrating.
     
  7. John Lloyd

    John Lloyd Stunt Coordinator

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    I watched this over the weekend on my Sony BD350, but did not notice a problem with the subtitles.
     
  8. Richard Gallagher

    Reviewer

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    I also had no issues with the subtitles.
     

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