Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 1971, William Friedkin released The French Connection, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Robin Moore, published about the “French Connection” drug trafficking scheme. Starring Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Marcel Bozzufi, Frederic de Pasquale, Bill Hickman, Ann Rebbot, Harold Gary, Arlene Farber, Ededie Egan, Andre Ernotte, Sonny Grosso, Benny Marino, Patrick McDermott, Alan Weeks, Andre Trottier, and Randy Jurgensen, the film grossed $51.7 million at the box office. Nominated for multiple awards such as the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound, along with the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay, the film also won many awards, including the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing and the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. The American Film Institute also placed it at #70 in its list of Top 100 Movies, #8 in its list of Top 100 Thrilling Movies and #44 in its list of Top 100 Heroes.
Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Detective Buddy “Cloudy” Russo” work as cops in the Narcotics Division of the New York City Police Department. However, one day, they uncover a large shipment of heroin from France and find that they end up following the trail to the kingpin Alain Charnier.
A notable win over many other great films, The French Connection is a good and quite interesting period piece concerning the eponymous heroin smuggling ring. The story itself is fascinating as it doesn’t completely rely on high octane action even though it deals with the police working to take down a drug smuggling operation. Rather, there’s a lot of scenes that show how much waiting there is when it comes to doing actual police work, seen when Doyle and Russo are sitting in their car on a stakeout and again when the two are in a boiler room just listening to phone conversations. The film also throws plenty of intensity towards the audience, with one very notable scene being when Doyle is tailing Charnier that ultimately culminates in the latter making the former follow him on and off the same train. The intensity comes from how it’s not certain just what is going to happen and the fact that anything could. What’s more is that it ends like a lot of things do in real life: going backward. With all the trouble at Doyle and Russo went through to bust the operation, officers are killed, a woman and two transit officers are shot, Charnier ends up out of prison and the other suspects get reduced or suspended sentences with Doyle and Russo being transferred out of the narcotics division.
Yet, while the majority of the film doesn’t rely on high octane action, there is one very notable scene where there is quite a lot of action and its placement is well done as its in contrast to what’s been in the film thus far. It’s the car chase sequence and it’s not only wildly entertaining to watch, but also spectacularly filmed, given the time period of the film’s production. Though it isn’t anything to write home about these days, considering that nearly every action film has a car chase with multiple car pileups and crazily done shots, back in 1971, this was considered the definitive car chase. Taking all that into consideration, it’s an amazing sequence with the camera mounted to the hood of the cars, the near misses that Doyle gets into and how he’s chasing a train.
Doyle is also very interesting as a character and seems to be a fascinating deconstruction of the cowboy cop trope. He doesn’t have any respect for doing things the correct and official way or for his boss and would rather shoot first and ask questions later. However, this shows to be an imposition on the investigation and his trigger happy nature makes it so he winds up shooting a federal agent by mistake, leaving enough time for Charnier to get away. He also gets transferred out of narcotics following the film.
Doyle is also a pretty good foil of Charnier. The former is a crude alcoholic who would rather bust heads than act diplomatic in pursuit of a criminal. At the same time, the latter is suave, sophisticated and has a way with words. The dichotomy between the two can really be seen when Doyle is staking out Charnier when the man is having dinner in a fancy restaurant. Chanier is seen as having fine wine and an elaborate main course, contrasted with Doyle’s bad coffee and single slice of pizza.
The film is also great on a technical level, especially with the cinematography. Not only were the aforementioned shots taken from the hoods of the cars for the car chase done very well, but there were many other great shots throughout the film. One good example is near the end of the film when Devereaux’s Lincoln is crossing the bridge. The shot where all the police cars are blocking them with Doyle walking up and making himself known has great composition and is shot wonderfully.
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CJ Kelly from the PNW on April 27, 2016:
Great review. One of my favorite films. I think anybody who grew up in NYC can appreciate that film. It's a NY that does not exist anymore. But the one thing that makes this a classic: the location shoots. No CGI. No special effects. They were really on the subway. Those cars were doing a 100 mph on Stillwell Ave. Shared.