The film focuses on young Malik (powerfully played by Tahar Rahim), serving a six year prison sentence for an unknown crime. Arriving with nothing more than a fifty-euro note stuck in his worn-out trainers, A Prophet follows his career on the inside, as he comes across Corsican mafia (led by Niels Arestrup) and other groups within the crowded prison.
To discuss the way the plot unfolds throughout the near-three hour length of the film would be to ruin one of the chief pleasures of an excellent script, but it is worth noting that the writing quality here is of an exceptional standard. Politics, characterisation, religion and elements of fantasy or super-realism are interwoven with a plot that maintains a relentless and gripping pace from start to finish. Some segments are perhaps slightly superfluous to the main narrative thrust, but these are executed with such panache that few viewers could find sufficient cause for complaint.
Audiard's direction is superlative, his keen eye filling every scene with details and touches, and effectively capturing some magnificent performances by the strong cast. There is a tangible attempt to create a truly iconic crime drama here - with the epic scope of The Godfather, the punchy style of Trainspotting and the thematic ambiguity (but notably none of the ironic overtones) of Pulp Fiction. These are not glib references - the film merits comparison with such definitive work because it is undoubtedly worthy of entry into that pantheon.
Utterly revelatory on a first viewing, A Prophet is a film to be pored over, studied, dissected and above all treasured.