The French Connection

The French Connection

***1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

If you looked up 'gritty Seventies cop thriller' in any film dictionary, chances are you'll see a picture of The French Connection. Based on the real-life events of two Noo Yaark coppers in the 1960s, director William Friedkin's career-maker lead the way for a generation of crime actioners that tried for the more realistic approach.

Following a hunch, hard-ass NYPD Narc Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Russo (Roy Scheider) stumble across a potentially-massive drug smuggling operation that is coming rom Marseilles.

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To be honest, it's not deep and is often way too slow, but at times there's genre-defining brilliance on show. However, the tone is a bit too sombre and low key. Shot during a cold and literally gray New York winter (entirely on location), there's a dirty, doomed feel to proceedings that alternates between 'realistic grit' and 'please go to a less- mucky area'. Still, Friedkin's trend-setting handheld-camera gives a documentary-style feel, puting you right in among the tense surveillance and hunch-following legwork.

And, of course, it helps create one of the best chases ever commited to screen. As Popeye pursues an elevated subway train containing a French smuggler in a banged-up Sedan, the combination of stunt driving, real collisions left in and sound effects, ratches the tension skywards. It might have only been included as producer Philip D'Antoni wanted to top Bullit - which he also produced - but the end result still puts all those naff, modern car chases to shame. Brilliant.

Speaking of brilliant, Hackman is also a bit tasty in the lead. Though initially doubting he could play the part, Hackman launched his career with the profanity-spewing bully we we see here. What is really interesting about him is the way that we know he isn't so single-mindedly driven to catch the bad guys because they're doing wrong - he's doing it because his job's an all-consuming obsession. Despite being given nothing to do, Scheider is excellent as always. Any scenes not featuring this pair though, could easily have been edited out. One French guy chats to another... etc etc. Who cares?

Reviewed on: 29 Aug 2011
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An unorthodox cop and his partner are hot on the tail of a heroin shipment.
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Director: William Friedkin

Writer: Ernest Tidyman, Robin Moore, Howard Hawks, Edward M. Keyes

Starring: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzuffi, Frédéric de Pasquale, Bill Hickman, Ann Rebbot, Harold Gary, Arlene Farber, Eddie Egan, André Ernotte, Sonny Grosso, Benny Marino, Patrick McDermott

Year: 1971

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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