Gene Hackman has had a very long career that stood out for many years. One of his most notable roles in the eyes of both critics and fans alike is his role in The French Connection. It garnered him a win for Best Actor and is one of his most highly regarded films to date.
Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) is a cop who follows his instincts and seems to play hunches. When he and his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) catch wind of something, they end up playing one of his hunches and begin to try to track down some people who they believe are shipping heroine on to U.S. soil. They run into a host of potential criminals who may have a hand in this deal involving narcotics and they also have to prove to their superiors that the case is legitimate. If they don't prove it, all of their work may go up in smoke.
The French Connection involves what appears to be some hard-nosed police work from the 1960's and 70's. I say "appears to be" because I wasn't alive during that time and I don't know how they handled their business back then. I do know that the cops were allowed to be rougher and more aggressive during this time frame based on what I've heard, so I'm sure at least some of their tactics they used in this movie may be fairly accurate.
This movie is given what you might call an unglamourus look at police life. It's not that it's really gritty or overly harsh or anything, it's just plain and not overdone. This style makes the movie more realistic in a sense. The French Connection is a straight up film about police procedure. It follows some detectives on the job trying to take down who they believe are lawbreakers and are attempting to crack what may be a very large case with international importance.
The story and how it was laid out is what makes the movie as good as it is. In my opinion, the actors didn't have to do too much because of the way everything is placed on camera. The actors portray their roles and go through what they're asked to do, but the true stars of The French Connection are the script, director Philip D'Antoni and the film itself.
This is not a deep movie with a complex storyline or anything like that. It's straight forward and it has a lineal story that remains glued on the investigation throughout the film's duration. Unlike most movies, they're able to take something without much to offer in terms of diversity and manage to stretch it out into a feature-length film without adding a bunch of unnecessary and boring scenes to it.
Everything unfolds in a slow, but solid pace as we find out much of what's going on at the same time the detectives do. This makes virtually everything about the movie more interesting and it never allows the movie to fall flat or lets the viewer become bored. This should be a lesson for filmmakers everywhere when working on something that doesn't contain a lot of material. The director manages to successfully keep you engaged by simply being smart.
D'Antoni goes through three different modes to tell the story and I'll describe them like this: There's the "stop and frisk" mode, which shows the aggression of the cops and some of what they could get away with at that time. There's "investigation" mode, which is really the core of the film and delivers a good amount of suspense. The third and final mode would be what I would call "action" mode. This mode is entertaining, fast paced and adds some gritty aspects to the film. All of those modes are pieced together nicely to create a movie that's fluid all the way through.
When it comes to the characters, none of them were unrealistic or flashy and I liked that here. I also liked the fact that they didn't make the heroes out to be flawless. The movie's protagonist is probably the type of cop that you may run into at times and is clearly on the racist side. That's something you don't see in many movies. The "good guy" is on the right side of the law, but may not actually be all that good of a person. It's fitting, because The French Connection is loosely based on some actual people and the events that they were a part of.
The French Connection showed some great work from its director. This is probably his best movie, but he also had a few other ones that stand out. It would have been cool to see him do many more films, but he stopped in order to focus on other things in the world of entertainment. His style was refreshing and unique and that's always good to see in Hollywood.
Director: Philip D'Antoni
Tony Lo Bianco
Film Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: October 9, 1971
Distributor: 20th Century Fox