The French Connection (R)

9 Stars

If you mention The French Connection around men over forty, they’ll tell you how good it is.

This movie directed by William Friedkin (and based on the book by Robin Moore) has fallen into obscurity.

We’ve all heard of it. But how many of us have actually seen it?

It holds up strong!

Starring Gene Hackman as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, a brash alcoholic but passionate police officer. Roy Scheider received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor as Buddy Russo, his more reserved partner. Their characters are based on real-life detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso.

The French Connection was nominated for eight academy awards in 1972 and won five, including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing.

The movie dives right in, with Popeye in a Santa suit, and the rare ‘chase on foot’ through the streets of Marseille. The French part of The French Connection ends rather quickly because the setting soon transitions to Brooklyn for the remainder of the picture.

Let’s talk chase scenes.

The F.C.’s got three: Two on-foot, and one via automotive that podiums amongst the top car chases in cinematic history.

Did Hackman’s character introduce the cop cliché of commandeering a vehicle?

As for the other hunt on foot, it’s a passive chase in which both parties are co-aware.

No matter the manner of pursuit, Friedkin fires on all cylinders.

[Quick sidebar: Top seven car chases, in no particular order. The French Connection, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Drive, The Blues Brothers, The Matrix Reloaded, Jack Reacher and Children of Men.]

While attending the Turner Classic Movie Festival, I saw William Friedkin speak, and can happily report he’s a cordial, sharp-witted and poignant interviewee. He seems like a really good dude.

Amongst a number of others, his top films include The Exorcist from 1973 and Arbitrage from 2012.

Anyway, The French Connection is a riveting thrill ride that utilizes a number of stylistic shooting techniques.

The car-dismantling scene will have you on the edge of your seat.

There are relatively few weaknesses. Specifically a sprinkling of clunky ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) and a train conductor loses consciousness in an unrealistic fashion. Other than that, the loose threads are minimal.

Some plot points require post-viewing research. The ending’s a bit puzzling. And Popeye’s character utilizes a psychological interrogation tactic that will have you scratching your head.

While he berates Willy with questions, he interrogates the man about, “the last time he picked his feet in Poughkeepsie,” in order to cause confusion. According to Friedkin, its inclusion is due to the real-life interrogation technique developed by Eddie Egan.

Some of the stylistic camera techniques are rather innovative. Like the excellent use of ‘silent dialogue.’

At one point, Popeye’s staking out a restaurant. The cameraman is seated at the table with the two men he’s tailing. While Popeye clearly freezes outside, dumping out his presumably cold coffee, the camera slowly zooms in on him.

It’s an enchanting effect; creating ponderous distance between the audible and visual aspects of the film.

Popeye’s relationship with his stool pigeon is unexpected, compelling and fun. It’s an intriguing plot device in which to illustrate our protagonist’s scruples.

All in all, The French Connection is a fantastic flick.

It’s on the shorter end of the spectrum.

It’s poignant, innovative and gripping,

It’s Gene Hackman at his best.

You’ll devour it!

Thoughts, perchance?

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