Stars: 3.5 out of 5
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: October 9, 1971
Directed by: William Friedkin
Genre: Action/ Crime/ Thriller
One of the most exciting thrillers in movie history, “The French Connection” takes viewers on a rousing and intoxicating ride through the unpredictable and violent world of illegal drugs. Two New York city police officers accidentally stumble upon a huge drug transaction during the course of a routine investigation. The film follows their attempts to catch the perpetrators and prevent the distribution of an enormous stash of heroin throughout the city. The action is almost non-stop and keeps the audience of the edge of their seats for almost the entire movie. The film is greatly helped by being shot at various locations in New York City.
“The French Connection” opens with two separate story lines that soon converge. In France, a drug lord named Charnier, played with a quite menace by Fernando Rey, forms a plan to transport a huge shipment of heroin to New York City. He hides the drugs in an automobile belonging to an acquaintance. The car is being shipped to the United States and Charnier places the heroin bags in the body of the vehicle to escape detection. He plans to take possession of the car once the vehicle passes through customs. He will then sell the drugs for a huge profit.
Meanwhile, in New York City, police detectives Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo, played by Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, and are having drinks at a nightclub. They notice some suspicious activity in the club and follow one of the patrons when she leaves the establishment. This leads them to a man named Sal Boca, played by Tony Lo Bianco. Doyle and Russo suspect that Boca is involved in a large shipment of heroin that is expected to arrive in the United States. After investing further, they realize that Boca is connected to Charnier and the shipment hidden in the automobile.
The director of the film, William Friedkin, weaves his way masterfully though the two stories during the first part of the film. He shows the viewer many unsavory aspects of the drug-dealing milieu, as well as the violent methods law enforcement agents sometimes used to combat illegal activity. Although the pace is somewhat slower in this part of the film, the audience is still mesmerized by the powerful acting and the director’s attention to detail.
Once Charnier arrives in New York City, the actions starts to really heat up. When the drug lord realizes that Doyle and Russo are looking into his activities, he reluctantly agrees to a suggestion by one of his henchman that Doyle be assassinated. As Doyle is walking to his apartment building, the henchman, Nicoli, fires a shot from the roof. The shot misses its target, however, and Doyle spots Nicoli and gives chase.
The sequence that follows the failed assassination attempt is one of the most famous in movie history. The audience is taken on a breathless journey as Doyle tries to catch the fleeing gunman. When Nicoli escapes on a elevated train, the unrelenting detective commandeers a vehicle from a citizen and pursues the train.
During the pursuit, the vehicle is involved in various hair-raising close calls with other cars as well as pedestrians. In a few cases, the vehicle is actually struck by other cars. These occurrences were not planned, but happened because the stunt drivers in the other cars had so little margin for error. They added to the realism of the film, however, so the director left the crashes in the final cut of the movie.
When Nicolai gets off the train, Popeye is waiting for him at the bottom of a staircase. He turns to run away, but the detective shoots and kills him. For many viewers, this exhilarating sequence is the highpoint of the film. The story continues, however, with Doyle and Russo still trying to capture Charnier. A final, thrilling confrontation takes place in an abandoned warehouse.
Generations of movie audiences have been swept up in the stirring narrative of “The French Connection.” Few other films in Hollywood history have the type of kinetic energy and electrifying story telling that seems to defy the passage of time. The powerful film making techniques on display in this movie have inspired many other movie directors.
In recognition of its superb quality, “The French Connection” received many awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture. In addition, Gene Hackman won the Oscar for Best Actor due to his brilliant performance as Popeye Doyle. The movie has also been recognized as one of the top 100 films of all time by the American Film Institute.
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