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French Connection, The (1971)


Slick as all Hell
Slick as all Hell

Genre: Action Crime Thriller

Starring: Gene Hackman (Hoosiers Superman), Roy Scheider (Jaws  All That Jazz)

Directed By: William Friedkin (The Exorcist To Live and Die in L.A.)

Overview: New York City is on a heroine drought.  Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle and his partner suspect there's a large shipment coming in from Europe. They just have to learn who the French connection is to make the biggest drug bust of their careers.

Hollywood might have a knack for building suspense, for building an exciting car chase, for building up tension when a cop is trying to tail a mark and not get made, but time after time, The French Connection not only keeps that tension high, but repeats it scene after scene, viewing after viewing, planting it firmly in the realm of masterpiece film.

The French Connection's New York is a dry town full of hurting junkies all waiting for the big shipment of heroine to hit the streets and heal them. Narcotics officers 'Popeye' Doyle and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) are hurting almost as bad to get a shot at finding that shipment, and the French connection they suspect is importing it.

The premise is that basic, yet The French Connection excels at being that simple battle of wits between narcotics cops and drug-smugglers in a way few other films have. What makes it so incredible is the perfect storm of character and suspense, and everyone, be it dealer, buyer, or cop, having a less than perfect plan going in. Gene Hackman plays 'Popeye' Doyle – what a name! – a policeman who is nowhere near above one night stands, racial epithets and heavy-handed brow-beating.

Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle: You dumb guinea.
Buddy "Cloudy" Russo: How the hell was I supposed to know he had a knife?
Popeye: Never trust a nigger.
Cloudy: He could have been white!
Popeye: Never trust anyone! 

In short he's a cop who's human, who has faults - failings even, but behind it all is a true undying dedication to the job that is keeping the streets clean of garbage. On the other side of the fence is Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), codenamed Frog 1, a wealthy Frenchman looking to unload a large shipment of heroine to America at rock bottom prices. With the help of a high-profile French television star, getting the drugs into the country should be easy. His New York contacts include an eager young hopeful and his not-so-certain financial backer. On the other side, 'Popeye' and his partner seem more at odds with the Police Force who're there to support them than the smugglers they’re trying to bust.

This character tension is incredible, but nothing compared to the scenes where the police are getting work done. Whether it's Popeye shaking down bars for busts or a high speed chase to follow a runaway el-train, it's incredibly paced - even the hours-long stakeouts keep you on the edge of your seat. One of my personal favourites is an extended tailing scene where Popeye tries his best to stay warm out in the cold with a slice of pizza and bad coffee while watching the rich Frenchman, Frog 1, enjoying fine dining and freshly brewed espresso in comfort. The juxtaposition is wonderful. Add a musical score that's perfectly matched with the suspense of every scene and it's no surprise that it's a film that spawned a very worthy sequel.

Connect With It!

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 9 Script: 10 Plot: 9 Mood: 10

Overall Rating: 94% (Hook Up)

I walked into The French Connection knowing that it would be typical drug dealer / cop chase flic. I left wondering why I hadn't heard more loudly-touted acclaim for what instantly became one of my Top 10 favourite movies of all time.

Don't take my word for it. Academy Awards include:

Best Screenplay
 Best Film Editing by Gerald B. Greenberg
Gene Hackman for Best Actor
Best Director
to William Friedkin

And for as much as it would have been nice to have had Clockwork Orange win it, I'm not going to squirm too much knowing that The French Connection beat it out for Best Picture

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