Tuesday, January 24, 2012
FRENCH CONNECTION, THE
(October 1971, U.S.)
To put it simply and plainly, William Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION is, has always been, and will continue to be my all-time favorite crime thriller. Especially today, when our society has become so pathetically concerned with being so verbally politically correct and watching what we say around others, it's almost refreshing to return to a character like Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle, a Brooklyn narcotics detective who is, in my opinion, exactly what every movie cop should be; a though, no-nonsense racist pig!
Now, you may have heard me tell you what a shithole I think Brooklyn is. Well, this is 1971, and as you watch the movie, it's difficult to imagine Brooklyn (and ALL of New York City, for that matter) to be any more ridden with crime and filth than it does at this time. But a hard edge thriller of this sorts would likely not work today in a city that has gotten "cleaned up" over the last two decades. If you ever lived in or grew up around Manhattan or Brooklyn, it can be quite a visual trip looking at the city as it appeared forty years ago, especially if you happen to catch a glimpse of one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center still under construction.
The film revolves around the smuggling of narcotics between Marseilles, France and New York City. In New York, detectives Doyle (played by Gene Hackman) and Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo (played by the great Roy Scheider) are the ones who almost accidentally stumble upon a possible major narcotics score that going to come into New York in the next few days and proceed to investigate "the French connection" in the case. Doyle becomes obssessed with not only breaking the case, but also catching Alain Charnier (played by Fernando Rey), the French criminal responsible for smuggling the heroin from France to the United States. Much of the film serves as a game of cat-and-mouse between cops and criminals and it's impossible not to become caught up in every step of the action, especially with the accompanying soundtrack. Doyle is a good cop but the man hates, too; hates criminals, hates the FBI and hates the rich. Watch carefully, the contempt on his face as he stands outside in the brutal and depressing New York cold weather staking out two criminals across the street enjoying a luxurious lunch at a fancy French restaurant while he feasts on a mere slice of pizza and some very bad coffee.
Getting back to the action, let's talk about that incredible car chase for a moment. With all due respect to Steve McQueen in BULLIT (1968), it's an almost psychotic Doyle chasing an elevated subway train through the streets of Brooklyn that has and always will get my personal award for best car chase scene in a film EVER! If you've seen this, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. You'll also know that this sequence was filmed on location with a real car and a real driver. Yes, it was all real. No computer or special effects bullshit here!
THE FRENCH CONNECTION is not only a film I enjoy revisiting when I want the best damn crime thriller ever made, but also a rather bizarre nostolgic look back at New York City and how it used to look , good or bad. It's also a story that I like to leave ambiguous in my own mind when Charnier gets away at the end. In other words, I choose to ignore the fact that there was a FRENCH CONNECTION II four years later.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION won the Oscar for best picture of 1971. It was also the first R-rated film to do so since the introduction of the MPAA film rating system.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jimmy: "You dumb guinea."
Buddy: "How the hell was I supposed to know he had a knife?"
Jimmy: "Never trust a nigger."
Buddy: "He could have been white."
Jimmy: "Never trust anyone!"
See what I mean? Very "un-PC" dialogue, but it still works for the character and the setting.