Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Review: “The Last Song” and “A Prophet”

“The Last Song”

Miley Cyrus’s first venture into cinema actually took place several years ago when she played Ruthie in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish,” but “The Last Song” constitutes her first: and certainly not her last: major acting performance. Unfortunately, this umpteenth adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel looks much more like a moping, pouting, let’s-find-Miley-a-boyfriend spectacle than a film.

Because of its origins, you know three things about this movie even before you watch it: two people will fall in love, someone will die, and everyone in between will sniffle and cry. To choose from, you have Ronnie (Cyrus), Will (Liam Hemsworth), Steve (Greg Kinnear), and a random assortment of family members and adolescents that roam the Georgia beach. Can you play matchmaker?

The film wants you to believe that Ronnie, a piano prodigy recruited by Julliard, is a rebellious, gothic-leaning, anti-popular teen that can’t realize her musical potential without her father’s inspiration. The film wants you to believe that Will is a rich surfer guy that has a tender, environmental side to him when he and Ronnie team up to protect a loggerhead sea turtle nest. The film also wants you to believe that it represents plausible situations that produce ethical and emotional dilemmas many of us face every day.

Far from being the cute little romance I expected, “The Last Song” relies on faux melancholic tones merely to rationalize its own forgetful creation while regurgitating the vast and, by now, trite themes of love, tragedy, and fate. Don’t worry, though, two more Sparks adaptations are expected next year.

“A Prophet”

Unflinching drama has its place in cinema. This maxim is precisely what Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet,” a film about a young, illiterate Arab man in a French prison who falls under the sway of the Corsican mafia, sets out to prove in a style that is as critical as De Sica’s 1948 neorealist masterpiece, “The Bicycle Thief,” and as gritty as Meirelles and Lund’s 2002 trauma-inducing film, “City of God.”

Receiving filmic accolades at Cannes last year, where it won the Grand Prix award, “A Prophet” draws strong ties to its predecessor in that category, “Gomorrah,” an equally violent meditation on a branch of the Italian mafia. Audiard’s film, however, doesn’t naturalize violence to the point that the audience feels numb to a gunshot to the chest or to a corrupt system of power exploiting the ignorant and/or less fortunate.

“A Prophet” churns, slowly and methodically, from scene to scene as Malik (Tahar Rahim) gets thrown in prison, is introduced to the sage-like Luciani (Niels Arestrup), and begins carrying out a series of so-called missions for the organized crime group. Like any film of such an exceptional quality, though, Malik eschews the little, if any, empathy the audience can bestow upon him as he climbs the power ranks within the jail’s social hierarchy.

To assert this filmic gem’s place in my top ten films of the year would merely graze the extent of veneration it deserves. Audiard himself said that his film’s intentions lie in “creating icons, images for people who don’t have films in movies, like the Arabs in France.” Taking on the postcolonial project, he has succeeded, not only for Arabs, but for systematically excluded people in general.

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