Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.
All right, Two Cent’s here! Get your hands on your heads, get off the bar, and get on the wall!
With Drafthouse Films, those purveyors of the kookiest and koolest films, releasing The Connection, it seemed only fitting to go back to the film that serves as a benchmark for all crime procedurals of the past forty-plus years: The French Connection. Is the film as hard-hitting and engrossing today as it was when it first smashed onto cinema screens? Or does having a racist piece of garbage cop for a protagonist seem too dated a concept for today’s audiences?? Does this film contain the greatest car chase ever committed to film? Does hearing the word “Popeye” over and over again make everyone hungry for chicken?
All these question and more (we can’t actually guarantee there’s more, but just go with it) will be answered with this week’s Two Cents!
Next Week’s Pick:
If The French Connection is the peak of the gritty crime film, then John Woo’s seminal The Killer is the pinnacle of the blood-soaked operatic persuasion. Now streaming on Netflix Instant, The Killer is one of the most influential films on all of modern cinema. Does it hold? You tell us!
Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co!
I guess I can understand the canonical importance of The French Connection given the intense car/train chase sequence and editing/stunts/effects involved therein. But as a first-time viewer in 2015, it’s challenging not to cringe at the treatment of women and people of color in the film. Women are shown primarily as quiet decoration or sidepieces (unless singing on stage) and the majority of black people in the film are stuck playing junkies. Not exactly an accurate depiction of its time.
The cruelty of Hackman’s determined cop character Doyle, however, is unfortunately timeless. This guy will get his man by any means necessary, whether by stakeout, foot-chase, phone tapping… and he’s not afraid of coming off as despicable while doing it. Even as we’ve learned this about his character, the twist at the end is slightly surprising.
Still, even with the celebrated car/train chase, the film is not as suspenseful as expected, and it left me cold (watching it in a frigid theatre didn’t help things either). (@elizs)
The police procedural stripped of all extraneous material and all morality. The French Connection finds Gene Hackman’s snarling Doberman of a cop ripping apart New York City in his pursuit of a new shipment of heroin, but director William Friedkin never, never once, suggests that there is anything noble or heroic in Hackman’s actions. Popeye is not a white knight trying to protect the innocent, he’s the endgame for police empowerment, so hellbent on enforcing the law that basic humanity escapes him.
It’s a dark film, an ugly film, with a thread of absolute nihilism running rampant. Absolutely nothing that happens in this film has any effect on the drug problem in America, or even in New York City. For all of Popeye’s intensive investigation, the only criminal locked up is the perhaps the only innocent of the entire film. Friedkin took an ugly subject matter set in an ugly city during an ugly era of America, and he held up a mirror to it and refused to look away. The results are a marvel of lean storytelling and unadorned filmmaking, a blast of righteous fury that leaves you shaken and disturbed, as well as entertained. (@TheTrueBrendanF)
It’s difficult to know where to begin with The French Connection in terms of pointing out which aspect of it is the most powerful of why its one of the greatest films ever to come out of the 1970s. In many ways, it encompasses everything which made 1970s filmmaking so revolutionary and engrossing.
Any one of The French Connection’s brilliant elements would have been enough to award it the countless heaps of praise (along with the seven Oscars) it received upon its debut. The film showcases a frighteningly real portrait of the New York drug world, a stark police procedural, one of the greatest chase scenes ever put to film, an introduction into one of film’s most notorious anti-heroes and features what is possibly Hackman’s finest hour on screen.
Yet its the way director William Friedkin captures the essence of this 70s drug tale, shooting the story and its characters (including some real life players portraying versions of themselves) in such honest realism with all the dirt and grit of that world on full display. It was the kind of filmmaking which would echo throughout the decade, yet never in that unique way which made The French Connection an instant game-changer. (@frankfilmgeek)
Thankfully, The French Connection wasn’t as slow as I’d feared. I guess the reason I was most concerned with this is that I began watching mere hours after finally seeing Mad Max: Fury Road, which is 2 hours of nonstop action. So, I appreciate that there was some nice action woven throughout… though, by rule, crime drama is really just not my thing.
The French Connection was… alright. Hackman’s “Popeye” Doyle was a great love-to-hate type character, throwing around racial slurs and profiling any black man he sees. And, besides just Hackman, the acting all around is very solid and the film is certainly well done… but as noted above, I really don’t like crime drama too often at all. So, while I have quite a few positive things to say and very little that is negative, it just doesn’t connect for me.
In short, I’m glad I watched it, but am certainly not racing to see the sequel nor The Connection. I’ll likely just go out and see Fury Road again instead. (@thepaintedman)
“Doyle is bad news. But he’s a good cop”.
That introduction from the trailer may say it best. Popeye Doyle is a crazy anti-hero, and his casually racist leanings will immediately inform — and divide — the audience. I felt a distaste at once for his character, but the film’s attitude (Doyle is the protagonist, but not propped up as a “hero”), amazing action, and era-appropriate 70s vintage grit place him contextually in a great film that shouldn’t be directly confused with the awfulness of its main character. Also, he rocks a Santa suit while undercover, and to me that one little flourish identifies the difference between good and great attention to detail.
Like Dirty Harry, I think the film subtly posits — whether it really believes it or not — that maybe rough towns need rough cops to do get the dirty work done. From the hard driving theme over the opening titles, to the famed elevated train chase, to the vehicular strip-search, to its bloody finish, The French Connection constantly adrenalizes its audience and proves why it deserves a seat at the table of 70s greatness. (Its Marseille-set sequel… not so much.)
I just noticed that the Blu-ray has a commentary track with both Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, and I’m anxious to give that a listen to hear what they have to say about their characters’ attitudes, police brutality, and how the film has aged. (@VforVashaw)
The French Connection is a little bit of cinema magic. Without much back story, we get a feeling of depth both of plot and character. With more awkward walking than stellar car chases, we still get a feeling of tension and action. With one of the most abrasive anti-hero types I have seen, we still pull for his unhealthy obsession to work out, for him to win. I don’t love this movie as many do, though I acknowledge it as a masterpiece of both its time and genre. It is enough that I have followed Friedken’s career beyond The Exorcist, a movie so uniquely visceral I would have assumed it was a fluke. Yet it was not, Friedken is the real deal. The French Connection earns my admiration because it is, ultimately, a story of wasted energy. It is unafraid to paint its protagonists in the harsh colors that make sense, and it refuses to resolve any of its cultural or racial tensions. Yet, I am a sentimental man ultimately. The final resentment I feel towards all the characters of this film leaves me frustrated in a difficult way. This is the mark of great art, even if I do not feel affection toward it. (@liamrulz)
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