I can’t believe I haven’t seen this movie until now. I feel almost ashamed of myself, missing out on a classic like The French Connection. Better late than never I suppose, and I can’t believe what I’ve been missing. This is a fast paced, intelligent thriller with foreign intrigue and tough but likable characters topped off with an ending that will leave you speechless. “Did you ever pick your toes in Poughkeepsie?”
After a mysterious murder in Marseilles, New York detectives “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) start up on a case connected to the murder which involves an obscenely large shipment of heroine and a French criminal, Alain (Fernando Rey). This isn’t a typical investigation, but more so a psychological and physical test that will push the detectives out of their comfort zones and into an elaborate maze of cat and mouse.
I love watching a movie where it’s literally one excellent scene after another. A couple scenes stand out in particular. One involves a comedic bust in a bar, but there’s also an adrenaline fueled car chase, powerful shootouts, and suspenseful tailings through the underbellies and upper echelons of New York City. There’s never a dull moment in The French Connection and many times you’re left sitting in your seats dying to know what’s going to unfold in the next five minutes.
Hackman gives the best performance of his career as the tough talking, mean spirited, yet strangely likable cop, Doyle. His whip smart attitude and outstanding physical acting shows just how deep he is in character. Roy Scheider also gives a great performance, and is the perfect yin to Hackman’s yang. They’re so much more than good cop/bad cop because neither of them are especially “good.” One’s just a bit more heated than the other, which makes for some funny and often dramatic character scenes.
The drama in this film is heightened by its incredible shock value. This doesn’t mean its over the top, but it certainly pushes the limits of what is normally seen in some movies, like innocent people getting killed without any remorseful reactions. The car chase featuring an elevated train is also thrilling even after all these years and hundreds of car chases later. The ending scene alone left my mouth wide open in this weird shock/smile combo. Definitely one of the top 5, if not the top 3 endings off all time, but that’s a list for another day and another time.
I loved The French Connection and I can’t believe it took me this long to finally see it. The wait paid off because I was totally engaged by the thrills that were taking place before me. It’s a gem from the past that earned 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It was the movie to see in 1971, and I’d say it’s still the movie to see in 2012.