I suppose The French Connection is technically a really good movie; I just didn’t like it that much. It was one of those movies, like The Wild Bunch, that I can sort of absentmindedly sit through, recognize is actually really good, and then not care about it any further.
Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) is an amoral narcotics detective following a hunch. He and his partner, “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) are tailing a suspicious guy who owns a convenience store with his wife, and uncover their connection to a huge heroin smuggling operation. They are funneling it in through France and trying to sell it in New York City. Doyle becomes obsessed with catching “Frog One,” the Frenchman (Fernando Rey) responsible for the operation. He pursues him at all costs, regardless of being taken off the case by his boss and being accused of not following procedure by the FBI.
In Inherent Vice Josh Brolin’s character is introduced as having “that evil, little shit-twinkle in his eye that says Civil Rights Violations.” That could just as easily describe Gene Hackman’s character here. He is completely without qualms or moral dilemma’s of any sort. He does try his damnest to take down drug lords, but it doesn’t seem to be motivated out of good impulses. In fact, it’s hard to say why he does what he does, but I’d guess it’s the “every cop is a criminal thing” and he just happened to end up on the right side of the law (sort of). You see him zealously exercise his power over the customers in a bar and obsessively tail people throughout the film.
The most famous part of this movie is undoubtedly the chase scene. It has been called the best chase scene in the history of movies, and it’s easy to see why. This part up until the end is super intense, and almost makes up for all the slow-paced following people in the first part. Hackman’s character chases a elevated train in a car on the street below, endangering civilians along the way. It was filmed by mounting cameras on the front of the car and the train to put viewer right in middle of the action.
So all in all, I sort of have to give a grudging respect to this movie. While it didn’t involve me a whole lot, it was shot very well, voyeuristic in the beginning when he’s following everyone, and very intensely during the car chase. Hackman and Scheider do a good job; Hackman makes a intentionally one-dimensional character more interesting than he probably should have been, and there are actually a few thrilling moments in the second half. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t really get into this film because Hackman’s character was so one-dimensional. I get why this is a great movie and a classic, but it just didn’t work for me.
The Academy disagreed however, and nominated the film for 8 awards and finally gave it five. It won for best picture, Hackman for best actor, Friedkin for best director, adapted screenplay, and editing. It lost out on supporting actor for Scheider, cinematography, and sound. I don’t have a ton of experience with the films of 1971, but looking back my favorite definitely has to be McCabe & Mrs. Miller. That’s just a matter of personal preference though; they’re both great films, I just happen to like that one.
“You still picking your feet in Poughkeepsie?”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars