Tuesday, February 22, 2011
#66: The French Connection
Touted to be a classic, The French Connection is the true story of the New York Narcotics Bureau and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics busting a case of heroin trade in 1962. While in real life, there were a number of investigative agencies involved over a span of 2 years, the movie focusses on the role of these two agencies. In particular, the movie narrates in under two hours how two cops assigned on the case finally managed to crack the French Connection with regard to the trade. Incidentally, both the divisions shown in the movie are no longer operational.
Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) are regular undercover cops on the lookout for drug stakeouts. In a chance drink over a bar, Doyle notices something unusually extravagant about the lifestyle of Sal Boca - a bakery owner and coaxes his partner Russo to trail him, Elsewhere in Marseilles, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey)- a rich French shipyard owner has got an undercover cop killed through his henchman Nicoli. In a seperate meeting with a TV star who is on his way to US, Charnier convinces the star to take his Lincoln along with him on the ship to New York. Both the stories run alongside for a while until a thread connects Sal Boca to Charnier in New York and Doyle gets additional manpower to tail them all. The movie is a taut and a tense account of this surveillance that has been unleashed by Doyle on Charnier and Sal Boca and what it eventually leads to. In terms of a plot, there is a constant feeling that a big clash is inevitable between the law enforcement agencies and Charnier's men and that justifiably serves as the catalyst for the climax.
Gene Hackman is uninhibited as cop Doyle- someone who sleeps recklessly around with women and yet always has an eye out for his partner. Roy Scheider's calm demeanor, on the other hand, contrasts but blends well as Doyle's assured partner. The fact that Gene Hackman won an Oscar for this is apt reward for his portrayal as a merciless cop and gives you your monies worth. The other high point in the movie is of course the much celebrated chase scene. For six minutes and fifty-three seconds, you can be assured that you won't move an inch from your seat as an old Pontiac, battered and bruised along the way, gives an elevated city train a maniacal chase in an extraordinary exhibition of filming. You can carve this sequence out and pit it against any other car chase scene you've seen in recent years and this one will still take the cherry.
For the story, director William Friedkin does really well to keep the account as close as possible to the actual events. He even had the two real cops supervising and giving their inputs on the movie on the sets. A particular scene that has a Lincoln being torn down uses the same car mechanic who tore the car down in real life. Such resemblance to real-life events keeps the movie's atmosphere extremely gritty. Whether it's the tailing of Charnier or the eventual bust, Friedkin succeeds in building a very taut screenplay that is brimming with pressure in spite of minimal dialogue.
Simply put, The French Connection is an intelligent crime thriller that will have you hooked from the word go. It is a tantalizing account of a true story whose storytelling is accentuated by some brilliantly tense background music. What you get with it is paisa-vasool action, commendable performances and the satisfaction that you saw something that actually happened and is not fabricated. For all those for who believe in the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction, The French Connection is just about the perfect cop movie.