December 28, 2010 -- This French film is a brutal prison crime drama that shows the transformation of a small-time criminal into a big-time crime boss. This is all due to the education he receives in prison. The film also shows the change in the balance of power among organized crime organizations in prison and in the rest of France.
Malik El Djebena (played by Tahar Rahim) is a small-time crook who is sent to prison where he is immediately threatened with death by fellow prisoners who work for organized crime. Because Malik speaks Arabic and was approached for sex by another Muslim prisoner, Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), he is chosen to murder Reyeb. Reyeb is set to testify against the crime organization. Malik gets his orders directly from César Luciani (played by Niels Arestrup) who is the head of a Corsican crime organization in the prison. He is told that if he does not murder this man, he will be killed. Malik tries to get out of this deal, but is blocked at every turn. He has no choice but to murder Reyeb and he does. He is told that he is now under the protection of Luciani. For a time, he is treated better in prison, but the Corsicans eventually start to forget about Malik and he is treated like any other Muslim.
The Muslims in prison are gaining power, however, with their rising numbers. The Corsicans, many of whom are being released or transferred because of political decisions are losing power in prison and elsewhere. Luciani seeks Malik's help to deal with the Muslims in prison. Malik uses this opportunity to deal himself into the world of organized crime. He sets up a drug distribution ring on the outside, using his organized crime contacts and a network of people he met in prison. He works with both the Muslims and the Corsicans, playing each side off the other. Luciani knows what is going on, but finds himself increasingly unable to stop Malik from gaining more power. Malik cleverly starts a war within the Corsican organization and sides with the Muslims as the Corsicans destroy themselves in a gang war. Malik also learns to read in prison and studies other subjects, such as economics, which he uses to his advantage in his business. For years, Malik is haunted by the ghost of Reyeb, the man he killed. This guilt fades as he kills more people.
Malik learns much in prison. He starts out as a small-time teenage crook. He emerges from prison a man of wealth and power. He is now a ruthless murderer, smarter, tougher and better educated, but this does not bode well for society as a whole. This film rates a B.
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