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"The French Connection" (1971) Review

An autistic film geek lover who loves the art of film and is not ashamed of it.

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Plot

In the urban streets of New York City, Detectives Jimmy "Poppy" Dole (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Rosso (Roy Schinder) of the Narcotics Bureau stumble upon a drug smuggling ring led by a wealthy French drug smuggler, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey).

Trailer

Review

I love 1970s thrillers. Mainly because the films back then were made by real filmmakers with a passion for telling good stories on the big screen. Whether it be the raw grittiness of Taxi Driver or Dirty Harry, the paranoia of Three Days of the Condor or The Conversation, the exploration of human decay in Roman Polanski’s noir film Chinatown, these movies showed filmmaking talent in front and behind the camera. William Friedkin’s The French Connection is no exception.

Packed with incredible performances, taut direction, and a tight screenplay, The French Connection is a classic thriller movie that ticks all the right boxes in filmmaking.

A Gripping Story

What makes The French Connection so iconic is its simplicity. The plot is straightforward, but the story itself is gripping. The film is not trying to be a character study like The Godfather or Taxi Driver. It's simply just two detectives chasing a French drug smuggler in New York City. And that's all the audience needs to know for the main plot.

Even with a simple plot, the audience needs characters that they can care about on screen. The film could have fallen short with the characterizations of the police and criminals. Thankfully the movie succeeds at delivering rich characters beyond relying on the archetypes to carry the story.

The first introduction to Jimmy Doyle and Buddy Rosso is them trying to bust a case. After doing some undercover work with Buddy being a hotdog seller and Doyle as Santa Claus (yes, really), they chase the suspect on foot in the streets of Brooklyn. After the chase, they go through various ways to interrogate the suspect. Doyle wants to through brutal lengths to get him to confess the information, while Rosso wants to be the good cop.

This scene shows the difference between the two detectives. Even though Doyle is a dedicated cop, his methods are questionable. Russo plays the voice of reason in the role of being Doyle's partner. This dynamic is a perfect example of a great character foil in a story.

But before that, we are introduced to our main villain. A detective follows Alain Charnier through the streets of Marseille, France. But before the detective can make a move on him, he's assassinated by Pierre Nicoli, Charnier's right-hand man. And he shots him in the chest in bloody fashion.

This sequence shows the characters of Charnier and Pierre as smart-thinking career criminals. They are ahead of law enforcement each step of the way, making their plans ahead of time before they get busted. Unlike the introduction of Doyle and Russo, this one starts off quiet.

Performances

Gene Hackman is terrific as the character of Poppy Doyle. I can't imagine anyone else playing this character other than him. You believe that he's a hard boiled cop through the way he talks and moves. He sells the role well in his line delivery and body language. And with this being his first Oscar award for Best Actor, this may be one of his best performances to date.

Roy Scheider is great as well. This role landed his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The chemistry between him and Hackman is believable, making you feel like these guys can get along despite their differences on the job. This movie was his first role before Jaws was released five years later, placing him on the path to becoming one of the greatest heroes in cinema history as Chief Brody.

Tecnical Aspects

Apart from the fantastic performances and thrilling story, The French Connection is also a well-made movie. Benefiting from William Friedkin's competing direction, the film shines through with editing and cinematography.

Editing

This is a very fast-paced film. It clocks in at one hour and forty-five minutes, but it doesn't feel too short. Moments that are meant to grind the film to a halt are completely brushed by. This film is a perfect example of how cutting unnecessary moments in the editing room can benefit from not having too much filler in the movie.

The action scenes are filmed shaky and handheld. I think this is one of the few action films that introduced the term "shaky cam" into Hollywood. Paul Greengrass would introduce this style of filmmaking in the early 2000s with The Bourne Supremacy. But Greengrass would use this style with consistency to tell the story on screen, while other filmmakers would use it as an excuse to mask poor stunt work.

The shaky and handheld style in The French Connection works because it made sense with the grittiness of the story. An example of this is the famous car chase scene.

Car Chase

Cinematography

Before Taxi Driver came along, this movie was one of the first films to present the grittiness of New York City during the '70s. The sense of place feels raw and unnerving because this was actually filmed in New York City. Owen Roizman deserves credit for his cinematography on this film.

Final Thoughts

This all-time classic film was the first action movie to win five Oscars*, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. It's fairly rare to have a genre film win Best Picture when looking at films like Lord of The Rings: Return of The King, Silence of the Lambs, Gladiator, and The Departed. Best Picture films in recent years have felt like a chore to watch (cough...Crash in 2005...cough), with a few exceptions like The Shape of Water and Parasite.

There are a few movies that have won Best Picture that I can rewatch over and over again. And The French Connection is one of them. I'm giving this film five out of five stars.

Rating

Best Picture Winners

Comments

Theodore Turnquest II (author) from Lakeland, Florida on May 16, 2021:

Thank you. I'll have more reviews like this on the way.

Theodore Turnquest II (author) from Lakeland, Florida on May 16, 2021:

Thank you. I'll have more reviews on the way.

Iqra from East County on May 16, 2021:

Good Job Theodore

I like it

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