The French Connection (1971), Cert 18.

Director - William Friedkin.

Writers - Robin Moore & Ernest Tudyman.

Starring - Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco & Fernando Rey.


Premise - New York narcotics cops Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo (Roy Scheider) stumble across the bust of their lives as they start to unravel the mystery of a sandwich bar owner and his connection to a group of Frenchmen.

The French Connection won a bunch of awards when it was released in 1971 and it's not hard to see why. With an outstanding lead performance by Gene Hackman and impeccable direction by William 'The Exorcist' Friedkin it's a winning combination even today. The tale of hard cops busting a french smuggling ring is the kind of film that is rarely made by big studio Hollywood these days. I was amazed to read after seeing the film that it is based on a true story.

Not being familiar with the case that the film is based on I can't say how close to the actual events the film is. But, considering some of the scenes from the film (not least the seat-of-your-pants car chase) I would have a hard time believing that the events portrayed in the film bare much resemblance to what actually transpired.

Looking back after reading that the film is based on actual events, Friedken's documentary style approach to filming the movie seems even more apt. Handheld cameras are used often and long shots and zooms are employed on a frequent basis. I like Friedkin as a director, his style is gritty and realistic as can be seen in the likes of 'The Exorcist' and 'Cruising'. I look forward to his latest film, 'The Hunted' coming out this year with Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro.

In saying that though the film is starting to look a little dated, although this is through no fault of the film itself. The fashions, haircuts and vehicles date the film badly, as do the attitudes of the two cops. It's unlikely that they would get away with half of their antics in modern day New York. The way they rough up suspects and play good cop bad cop (although immensely entertaining. Did you ever pick your feet?), just wouldn't (or should that be shouldn't?) happen today.

Gene Hackman gives here what I think to be the best performance I have seen him give. Popeye is a no nonsense cop who is willing to put it all on the line to pursue what is at the end of the day, nothing more than a hunch. He works hard putting in mammoth shifts and plays hard, drinking to all hours and sleeping with young women. The way Popeye handles a shocking revelation in the last few minutes of the film is cold and heartless, just a blip to him that's in the way of him catching the bad guy. At no point is Hackman anything less than believable in this role.

Hackman is ably supported by Roy 'Chief Brody' Scheider. Scheider is an actor I like, he was easily the best thing in the many lacklustre 'Jaws' sequels and was good in 2010. Here he is the perfect foil to Popeye's intensity, often lightning the tone with a sly remark or cracking a joke.

I had a slight problem with the end of the film. Normally I enjoy an ambiguous, dark ending, but I felt the use of title cards was a little to cold. I was looking for some closure, a resolution. I assume this is how the actual case was resolved, but I found it lacking. I also find it hard to believe that given Popeye's actions in the final few minutes that he got off as lightly as he did.

I digress though, this and the dated look of the film are small niggles that only slightly tarnish an otherwise excellent detective film. Highly recommended.


7/10 for The French Connection.

Poster Quote - Did you ever pick your feet?