Viewed – 15 June 2010 Blu-ray
I will generally recommend French cinema to anyone who will listen, from erotic masterpieces like Betty Blue to shocking horrors like Frontier(s), the professionalism and the expertise in crafting well made cinema can not be argued, and so with this acclaimed prison drama – I just had to see it.
Newcomer Tahar Rahim plays petty crook Malik, who after being sentenced to six years imprisonment, finds the only way to survive is to befriend the local mafia boss, who mentors him, but only after making him kill someone to prove his worth. Malik is a steely eyed but vulnerable character that at first takes to the brutal orders of his new friend with some reluctance and genuine fear, until eventually he’s finding a way of making things work for his own ends, and over the years starts to form connections and build his own career in the criminal underworld. It’s a subtle and quiet performance from Rahim, but one that is very believable, suitably supported by a menacing, heavy weight turn from the Brando-like Niels Arestrup.
This absorbing if somewhat drawn out movie doesn’t hide away from the more disturbing moments and even if for this material it’s a little light on action or violence – when it comes it will shock and astonish you. This study of modern-day prison life, French, Arabian criminals and a different take on the gangster sub-genre compared to say, Goodfellas passes the 2 and a half hour running time with ease. Some of the dealings and situations get a little confusing, not helped by having to read subtitles (never normally an issue for me), and overall lacks the pace of say that other French crime epic, Mesrine. But at its heart it’s a more human story, hammered home by moments of surrealism that will stick in your head long after the credits have rolled.
So to conclude, yet another well made movie from France, expertly directed by the award-winning Jacques Audiard and is an easy recommendation.
Verdict: 4 /5