The French Connection started an obsession of Hollywood’s with gritty cop thrillers continued with Serpico and Dirty Harry (both arguably owing their places upon the list to the French Connection). Deciding to portray more than just car chases and shoot-outs, instead including the mind-numbing mundanity of spending hours listening at a wire tap, staking out a suspect’s house and dismantling an entire car to its base components, as well as the gritty violence almost required to make an arrest distances this far from more modern-day blockbuster police movies such as Bad Boys or SWAT. It’s a wonder we’re not shown policemen filling out a mountain of paperwork. Not to say that the shoot-outs and car chases in the French Connection aren’t incredible, with the chase against a criminal-carrying overground train being both the highlight of the film and possibly the greatest car chase in movie history.
The greasy, bloodstained heart of the film is the star-making turn from Gene Hackman as obsessed detective ‘Popeye’ Doyle, unable to go out for a drink without seeing a table full of potential crims and kick-starting the plot of a film. Hackman is one of the greatest actors of his generation, and his leading roles began here, ably communicating the frustration and dogged determination of the case, the insanity brought about by cabin fever wire-tapping, the frustration at being outwitted by the men he’s chasing. The film also shows the parallels of the criminals living the high life, dining at 5-star restaurants, against the police tracking them dining on hotdogs and paper cups of coffee. This divide was more recently, and much less effectively, portrayed in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster.
If I had to pick a flaw with the film, it’s that police detective work seems to be based rather substantially on luck. Although it is through many, many hours of hard and committed work that most of the progress with the case occurs, a couple of major breakthroughs, including the inception of the case itself, transpire from fluke occurrences, be it the aforementioned sighting in a bar, or Doyle strolling along and coincidentally seeing a man he’s after. Also, the rather abrupt ending could have been softened a little, but its bleak starkness complies with the rest of the film.
Choose film 8/10