The French crime drama "A Prophet" boasts an Oscar nomination and comparisons to seemingly every great American crime drama from "The Godfather" to "Goodfellas." Worth the hype? Oui.

The French crime drama "A Prophet" boasts an Oscar nomination and comparisons to seemingly every great American crime drama from "The Godfather" to "Goodfellas." Worth the hype? Oui.

"A Prophet" is pulpy yet layered, expansive yet enthralling for nearly all of a two-and-a-half-hour running time that moves quickly.

Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is 19, illiterate and has just been sentenced to six years in a French prison. Despite the standard-issue posturing, he's terrified and overwhelmed by his new surroundings.

He's soon cornered by a Corsican crime boss (Niels Arestrup) and recruited to carry out a hit on another Arab prisoner, an act that earns the trust and protection of the Corsicans who rule the prison. Adaptive and shrewd, El Djebena begins a climb in the world of crime.

Director Jacques Audiard's film is so gritty and intimate from the first moments, it's hard not to get sucked in. Even the familiarity of the prison movie or the rise of a criminal feels fresh.

It's a morality tale, sure, but its telling is quite clinical. The criminal world is often romanticized in films like this. Not so here.

Everything is held in place by the great character at the center of the story (and the great actor portraying him). Malik is a victim, and his slide is seemingly irreversible, but he's wholly sympathetic.

"A Prophet" may not quite live among the greatest crime films, but it isn't completely out of their league.