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Casting Call: A Prophet

When watching the original, we pictured a Sean Penn-type as the weathered prison kingpin, Cesar Luciani. But, as Penn has already played a crime boss this year in Gangster Squad, we wouldn't want to typecast. Talking of which, please don't just cast De Niro or Pacino as the mob don. Although Cesar has the same manipulative power and cool evil of the Corleones, it would be too easy and too obvious to cast Italian Americans in the place of the original Arab-Muslim minority. To preserve this racial dynamic, we would like to see Jean Reno in the role. Although of French-Moroccan extraction, Reno has starred in multiple Hollywood films, including Leon: The Professional alongside a prepubescent Natalie Portman. He will have big shoes to fill as veteran Niels Arestrup gave a masterful performance in the original. Let's hope he's up to it.


At 19, Malik El Djebena is younger and more fragile than the other convicts. He is totally unschooled, not just because he's illiterate, but also because of his naivety and inexperience as a criminal. He enters prison still a relatively innocent adolescent. But he learns fast and is somewhat of a crime prodigy. By the end of this brutal coming-of-age story, he has become a hardened, savage killer. Throughout his metamorphosis, the audience is in perpetual fear, not just for his life but also for his soul. This will undoubtedly be the toughest part to cast. The studio should not go for a typical, handsome leading man here. The camera shouldn't love him, just as the audience is not meant to. We suggest Ezra Miller, who could bring that chilling, mercurial quality from We Need to Talk About Kevin to this role.

Ryad is the closest thing Malik has to a friend while in prison. He acts as a mentor to the naïve new inmate; he teaches him to read and write, exposes him to his Arab heritage, and introduces him to the Muslim gang. Ryad is one of the few (semi) sympathetic characters in the film and has to be played by an actor who can bring some much needed humanity to the film. There is no other man for the role but Oscar Isaac, who will be on every casting director's wish list after his acclaimed turn as the title character in Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers' latest, due out in the fall. 


Every mobster worth his salt needs some muscle on hand to do the dirty work. Enter Vettorri, the ever-present colossus flanking Cesar; fists wound tight, ready for war. Tom Hardy has already demonstrated his skull-crushing strength as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. We would love to see him return to flex again—but this time without the mask.


Reyeb's role is short but pivotal. He figures more heavily toward the beginning of the film before Cesar orders Malik to kill him as a form of barbaric initiation. The scene, in which Malik clumsily stabs Reyeb, is one of the most powerful images from the 2009 film. This role needs to be played by an actor that can be at once believable as a lowlife criminal whilst also being emotive enough to haunt the audience, just as the memory of Reyeb's slow death plagues Malik's conscious. The infinitely subtle John Hawkes would be more than capable. We would have loved to cast him as Cesar, but he may be a bit scrawny to play a powerful gang leader. Then again, he has proven to be a total chameleon, turning out unrecognizable performances in Winter's Bone and The Sessions. Hopefully this time he may get that well overdue Oscar nomination that he was robbed of this season.


Jordi le Gitan is the third member of Malik's small but increasingly powerful gang. He is the resident prison drug dealer who teams up with Malik and Ryad to form a drug running enterprise and usurp Cesar's top-dog crown. Is it just us, or is A Prophet starting to sound like a modern interpretation of a Shakespeare play? We would love to see Sacha Baron Cohen ditch his comic costumes (for a short while at least) and take on this mischievous and troubled character. A part like this, along with his starring role in the upcoming Freddie Mercury project, would help to reposition him in the industry as both comedian and serious actor.