The French Connection

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“You still picking your feet in Poughkeepsie?”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

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6 responses to “The French Connection

  1. Very interesting take on this film and I appreciate that. I say that because I too struggle with this film’s “classic” status. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good movie, but like you I couldn’t fully connect with it.

    • Nice to know I’m not alone! I had kind of a hard time reviewing this because it was hard to focus my attention while watching it. I still think it’s a good movie but not very involving due to the slow pace and one dimensional characters.

  2. I watched this quite recently along with French Connection 2, The Conversation and Prime Cut as part of a Gene Hackman marathon.
    Strange that Prime Cut, which was the least heralded of those films was the one I enjoyed the most. But then what do I know about movies?

    • I’ve never heard of Prime Cut before; sounds intense!
      I love The Conversation tho. I was thinking Hackman’s character was kind of similar to his here, in the whole obsessive do the job kind of way, but Caul has a lot more depth and you don’t totally hate him. That movie is also very seventies and pretty slow but it works because it actually examines its character. (At least for me anyway)

  3. I’m so with you on this. I like this movie enough, but Hackman’s performance is so one note, as is the whole film, and it really isn’t anything more than a moderately well made cop-thriller…but there are much better, and even from that same year!

    Great review!

    • I understand why some people can get behind Hackman’s performance and character, because the single mindedly determined hero is something you see a lot and it works sometimes (westerns a lot) but here I wasn’t into it as much as I should have been or the movie wanted to be. McCabe & Mrs. Miller gets my vote for BP of that year, but sadly it wasn’t even nominated.
      Thanks!

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