There's already a lot of hype surrounding A Prophet, the French crime/prison drama from director Jacques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Read My Lips). For starters, it won the Grand Prix award last year at Cannes, it was nominated for best foreign language film at this year's Oscars, and critics everywhere are comparing it to The Godfather and calling its lead actor, Tahar Rahim, "the next Al Pacino." It's a relief, then, that A Prophet largely lives up to expectations. And while it's a little early to call Rahim the next Pacino (he's starred in one film to date), the 28-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent does put in a riveting performance. Time frame aside, it's tempting to draw parallels between The Godfather and A Prophet in not only subject matter but in tone: Both films lull at times, but only to lend intensity to the parts that move.

Malik El Djebena, who at 19 starts a six-year sentence in a French prison, receives a steep introduction to the internal politics of his surroundings. Tensions between the weaker Muslim gang and the ruling Corsican mafia are paramount, but things get worse for Malik when he's housed next to a temporary inmate who's awaiting trial as an informant against the Corsicans. What follows is a gripping examination of human nature, man's drive to dominate, and one of the most intimate and intense murder scenes in memory.

Rahim masterfully portrays his character's ruse: Much like Pacino in The Godfather, Malik's apparent submissiveness becomes a tool that transports him though the harshest situations. Together with Audiard's deft mood and pacing, A Prophet truly is a memorable piece of art. But calling it the next Godfather is just lazy. recommended